AFTER MAKING a go of his ultra-alternative club BBQ Iguana for a year and a half at 14th and P streets NW, out-there entrepreneur Bill Stewart got so tired of D.C. shenanigans (the club was cleaned out by robbers in the spring, and the city inspectors were routinely capricious, he says) that he shut his playhouse down and went hunting for a new hangout in the suburbs.

Called Roratanga Rodeo, Stewart's latest club opened last Friday at 2711 Wilson Blvd. in Arlington, across the street from Sears.

"It's named after the capital island of the Cook Islands," Stewart says. "My brother-in-law and I were sitting around drinking and we came up with it. I like the South Seas, and it's a South Seas kind of place, with fish and waves all over the walls."

And then there's the car thing. Stewart, who has been "chopping up cars for years and doing stuff with them," has converted a '59 Cadillac ("a real tuna boat") into the eccentrically eclectic jukebox (which has Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire," sitting next to Hyaa's "Love Generation" and Lawrence Welk's "Happy Anniversary"), and a Fiat Spyder into the club's streetside sign. When Stewart rented the place, the Caddy was rotting out back. "The landlord said he'd tow it away, but I said, 'No I'll just take a few parts.' He had a cow when he saw what I had done with it."

Stewart is aiming to bring an Adams-Morgan/Georgetown type hangout to a neighborhood crowd that doesn't want to have to cross the river and deal with the District. The small (50 capacity) club serves hot chili and nachos, Anchor Steam and Rolling Rock on tap, and lots of microbrewery bottled beers. After his Nov. 15 performance license hearing, Stewart will book "bands without drums," in other words, mostly on-the-edge acoustic music.

"The problem with Iguana was you came to see the band, but if you weren't into the band there wasn't anything else to do -- it was too loud. I wanted to have a place where you could hang out and talk, too," he says.

Stewart says Iguana-esque bands (for instance, Graverobbers and Hyaa!, fronted by Stewart's wife, the awesome Alice Despard) are already clamoring to participate, and most are eager to adapt their sound for a night.

So everyone will be happy. Except maybe the drummers. But Stewart's got that covered, too: "The drummers can just drink heavily and not play drums, instead of drinking heavily and playing drums."

The phone's not connected at Roratanga Rodeo yet, according to Stewart, but the doors are open. ABOUT 700 scenesters arrived Friday night for the first night of Subterranea, a new club at 3065 M St. NW, which you may remember as Tommy Wong's, and Cafe Med before that. Owner William Panos brought in club consultant Eric Hilton, a former Fifth Column DJ who resurrected dancing at Perry's sushi restaurant in Adams-Morgan. (Remember when that space was the beloved Morgan's and the even more beloved Biltmore before that?)

"{Panos} was interested in themes, but I told him themes are over," says Hilton, a veteran at 24 of the keep-it-fresh club scene. "So it's really pretty stark right now. I sort of gave it an underwater, aquatic feel with the lighting."

Hilton's made the "fishbowl effect" of nightclubbing explicit -- in his place, clubgoers provide the color, like "flashy tropical fish moving through the tank," he says. Hilton, who says head DJ Hani Mardini will lean heavily on house and hip-hop tracks, is aiming for a specific crowd: "Unfortunately the crowd I want is the same crowd that goes to Perry's and to Fifth Column on Fridays. Sort of an international, collegiate, young adult crowd -- lots of posey-looking people. I'm not crazy about them, really. But it's not my job to like them. My job is to get them to spend money."

Subterranea (which shares its name with a London "sister" club) is open Wednesday through Sunday and will feature special events on Fridays. This Friday, photographers from London's trendoid i-D magazine will be in -- they're Over Here shooting a story on clublife in several U.S. cities, so dress to be scene. In mid-November, Subterranea will open its second floor, which Hilton says features grown-up stuff like a fireplace, pool table and antique furniture. On Saturday nights, a guest DJ from Howard University comes in for an evening dubbed The Bass Academy. Call the club's 24-hour hotline at 202/342-0075.