Requiem For a Rose

The Dalmatian known as Rose, who welcomed the rich and powerful to the Inn at Little Washington, died yesterday morning at age 13. The pricey restaurant's beloved mascot succumbed at her home, Rose Cottage, in Washington, Va.

"She was always at the door, wearing her Mikimoto pearls, and she was trained to escort the guests the 10 steps to the stairs and to the dining room," recalled Patrick O'Connell, who co-owns the inn with his life-partner, Reinhardt Lynch. "Most of the guests would go to visit her by the fireplace. Diane Sawyer has been very moved by her. It was amazing who would be on all-fours playing with Rose. She was quite a unique and delicate little Dalmatian. One guest said she always walked as if she was on heels."

The inn boasts a posh clientele that has included the late Pamela Harriman, Nancy Reagan and George Will (for their regular long lunches when Ronald Reagan was president), J. Carter Brown, Al and Tipper Gore, Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Barbra Streisand and Paul Newman. NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell, whose wedding to Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan took place at the inn in April 1997, returned our call about Rose from assignment in Cuba. "I'm so sad," Mitchell told us. "She was the most beautiful dog. She always greeted us when we'd go back for special occasions, and was very much a part of what made the inn so wonderful for us . . . She certainly was a well-fed dog."

Rose was also a celebrity in her own right. People magazine covered her hip replacement surgery. And she was the linchpin of the 25-year-old facility's upscale marketing strategy. Rose's spotted fur inspired not only the kitchen staff's uniforms but also, at the inn's gift shop, the digitized-on-fabric patterns of the signature $65 chef's pants and $24.95 aprons -- as well as the $2.50 cookie cutters. A Rose postcard goes for 50 cents, while a fake copy of her pearl choker can be had for $175.

Luckily, O'Connell and Lynch had the foresight two summers ago to acquire a replacement Dalmatian. O'Connell said Jo Be is in mascot training. "He's on a reducing diet at the moment," O'Connell said. "He's wonderfully handsome, but a tad overweight." Soon after he arrived, Jo Be tried out as greeter and ended up attacking a cheese display. "In one big lunge he ate a pound and a half of cheese," O'Connell said. "It was very expensive and fattening."

Trouble in Paradise?

* It has been a year since Wendy Rieger, Channel 4's 5 p.m. co-anchor, established "Wendy's House of Tea." She generously invited her colleagues to partake from her variable assortment of mostly herbal teas, which she set out with ceramic cups on hand-painted place mats atop a filing cabinet beside her desk. "I'm one of the 'highly compensated' employees, so the least I could do was provide my colleagues with a beverage that is both harmonious and good for the soul," Rieger told us yesterday. "It also keeps them out of my desk."

For the most part, Wendy's House of Tea has worked out well for the folks at Washington's NBC-owned station. The feng shui has been favorable. Alpha anchor Jim Vance tells Rieger it's "a little bit of Heaven," she says. Her office mate Tom Sherwood enjoys Wendy's caffeinated varieties. And coffee-guzzler George Michael has adopted a Zen-like posture of calm acceptance.

But now, in the middle of ratings sweeps month, problems have erupted.

"I don't know WHAT happened in the past few days," Rieger wrote yesterday in a newsroom wide message, "but Wendy's House of Tea looks like it's been visited by COKED-UP CHIMPANZEES! . . . Please restrain yourselves from opening the dry bag and SPEWING THE CONTENTS ALL OVER WENDY'S HOUSE OF TEA! Also, try to keep the honey . . . IN YOUR CUP . . . and not dribbled all over the establishment. If you visit today you will notice a fresh VINYL tablecloth . . . that can be hosed down."

Channel 4 News Director Bob Long told us, "I am devastated to think that the wa of Wendy's House of Tea would be in any way disturbed."

Rieger said: "I think it's just the strain of the ratings book. The energy here is discordant right now. Sweeps end next Wednesday at 11:35 p.m. Then I'll start Wendy's House of Vodka."

There's Ice, and There's Ice!

* Ronald Kessler's Monday night party for his latest book, "The Bureau: The Secret History of the FBI," was full of surprises. A few of the guests at Red Sage were in his previous book, "The Season: The Secret Life of Palm Beach and America's Richest Society." Kessler took us by the arm and commanded: "You must meet this woman who put her husband on ice because he died in the middle of the season."

Kessler hurried away and returned in the company of a short, stout woman wearing a black satin suit. "This is Gianna Lahainer!" he cried, and repeated his odd little story. Lahainer threw back her head and laughed. And then confirmed that when her husband of 38 years, Frank Lahainer, departed inconveniently a decade ago, she had him chilled at the funeral home for 40 days so she could attend all the best Palm Beach parties.

"And this is her new husband," Kessler continued, introducing Guido Lombardi, a smartly dressed younger man who identified himself as the Count de Canevaro. Then Kessler grabbed Lahainer's right hand. "Look, a 25-carat diamond! Touch it!" Again Lahainer laughed.

"Feel free to give us a call," Lombardi said. "We're good friends with Donald Trump."

With Barbara E. Martinez