HERE's a bit of architectural trivia for you: The Washington Plaza Hotel was designed in 1962 by Morris Lapidus, the man who gave Miami its glamorous Eden Roc and Fontainebleau hotels. In the 1950s and '60s, those resorts were popular with celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor, Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra, and the Fontainbleau itself featured prominently in films like "Goldfinger."

Washington's International Inn, as it was known, never drew the same high-wattage starpower. Fast-forward 40 years, though, and the International Bar (10 Thomas Circle NW; 202-842-1300) at the Washington Plaza Hotel is trying to recapture the magic of that era with retro-inspired theme nights, including fondue parties and DJs spinning '60s lounge music.

"This was a popular place in the 1960s, and we're trying to highlight that heyday in everything that we do," says bar manager Renee Pastore. "That's why we have James Bond movies -- Sean Connery only, of course -- playing on the flat screen behind the bar, as well as these events."

Everything started with a massive redesign of the bar and lounge last fall, giving it a funky style (think muted warm colors and a carpet covered with plant designs) instead of the trendy, minimalist '60s Swedish look so popular elsewhere. There are tufted leather couches just outside the bar, perfect for a bachelor pad. Seating options in the huge lounge area range from large, U-shaped booths along the walls, to coffee tables and low bench seating to funky couches that wrap around pillars. Exotic touches abound, from the leaping gazelles on the lampshades to the back-lit green bar, which is made from recycled Heineken bottles. Recently, the most coveted place in the lounge has been the seats near the small, stylish gas fireplace.

Wednesday is fondue night, when you can settle into a banquette for an evening of dipping and conversation, '60s dinner-party style. Served in tall silver dishes, orders of fondue are available for two, four or six people. You can choose the traditional model, dipping small chunks of bread into creamy cheese, or go the dessert route with gooey chocolate and hunks of soft poundcake, which is made in the hotel.

The atmosphere is more swingin' at Thursday's Snap! night, where Mr. Majesty spins '60s exotica, lounge, bossa nova, boogaloo and soul tracks. Compared with Wednesday, there's more of a cocktail party atmosphere, with plenty of mingling at the bar -- probably helped by the $5 martinis. Sadly, the bar lacks a dance floor, but people groove where they can find room.

Those are the only theme nights for now, but Pastore says she plans to have parties around the hotel's prominent pool later this year, "when Mother Nature tells us that people would rather be outside than sitting around the fireplace with fondue."

If you can't make the midweek events, the International is still worth a visit. Its bartenders make some of the best martinis in town, and the drink menu includes some interesting options, like the Blond Bombshell, made with Stolichnaya Vanil vodka and white cranberry juice. If you've been having cocktail wishes and caviar dreams, check out the Presidente platter for two: two martinis made with Lithuanian vodka and served in Cartier crystal glasses with a bowl of Beluga caviar. It's delivered to your table on a silver Tiffany tray, and costs $100.

Despite its appeal, I've been frustrated with the service during my visits, especially when the bar is crowded. Pastore says the kinks are being worked out, and for fondue and boogaloo, I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.


When Susan McCall started working the turntables on the burgeoning house and rave scene in the early 1990s as DJ Suzy Cyclone, she was usually the only woman on the bill, whether it was at the Vault, the Ritz or one of Catastrophic Production's huge events.

"It could be intimidating at times," she says of her early gigs. "I felt a lot of trepidation when I started out. Some people were supportive of me [because I was a woman], some were really quick to judge, and others didn't want any female DJs at all. But I had a lot of drive and was really into the music. It was interesting then, because the music was emerging, and there was always a party going.

"I was working at 12-Inch Dance Records and had a lot of friends in the scene, but I didn't really have any role models in D.C. I heard about some female DJs in New York and they inspired me, but that was about it."

McCall found success on the rave scene, appearing at large clubs and events in Washington and New York. But 10 years later, her early experiences are still common for up-and-coming female DJs. Walk into almost any area dance club -- especially the large, popular nightspots -- and chances are you'll find a man in the DJ booth. Some subcultures, like the goth and Britpop/indie rock scenes, regularly feature females selecting the records, and large events, such as Buzz, have brought internationally famous women like DJ Rap or the drum 'n' bass duo Kemistry and Storm to Washington. However, they remain the exception.

Since last fall, a group of female DJs has been trying to make sure that the next generation will have role models as well as venues where they can hone their craft. In November, the First Ladies DJ Collective put on its first monthly showcase, called Girl Friday, at the Black Cat (1811 14th St. NW; 202-667-7960), allowing women -- regardless of their chosen musical tastes -- to show off their skills.

"I think women are under more scrutiny behind the turntables, but if I talk to people and tell them I'm a DJ, the reaction is more like 'seeing is believing.' They're not sure what to expect," says First Ladies member Christine Mortiz, who's spun at some of the city's most popular nightspots, including Buzz, the 9:30 club and the Black Cat. "But once they hear me spin, then maybe they'll realize that I'm not a dilettante who just got into this because it's fashionable. I think it's true that women are held to a higher standard, but . . . music isn't like sports; it transcends gender. An individual's tastes and skills factor into what he or she sounds like as a DJ, but it's the music being played that matters, not the gender of the individual playing it."

First Ladies founder Dina Passman, who uses the name Ladyplastik, recounts her experiences at one local club before the group had its first meeting: "I was talking about the idea of a collective, and the [male] bartender said, 'I think that's a ridiculous idea, because, hey man, when we're DJing, we're all equal.' I said, 'Okay, how many women DJ here on a weekly basis?' There weren't any. He said, 'Oh, well, I don't think that's about sexism. It's about good music.' I felt the suggestion was that if we had a collective based around our gender, then the quality would suffer. That only strengthened my conviction."

A quick look at members' re{acute}sume{acute}s, though, shows that quality shouldn't be an issue. Two members of the First Ladies -- Moritz and Bev Stanton (aka Arthur Loves Plastic) were nominated for Best DJ in the Electronica category of the Washington Area Music Awards this year. (Stanton already has a slew of WAMMIES under her belt, all in the Techno/Ambient/Electronic/Industrial category: Best Duo/Group/Solo Performer awards in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001; Best Instrumentalist/Programmer in 2000 and 2001; and Best Recording in 1998 for "Slice" and 2000 for "Second Avenue Detour.") She has consistently topped internationally famous names like Thievery Corporation and Deep Dish.

At the moment, the First Ladies' emphasis is on adding new members to the collective and creating a group that can provide experience as well as new blood, with DJ clinics and mentoring as well as regular showcases. "We want the novices to the experts," says Kristina Gray (DJ Kitty La Rock). "From people like Suzy who've been around for years, to the girl in her bedroom who wants to learn more, and doesn't know where to start. She's intimidated to go into the record store by herself or doesn't know how to put the [needle] cartridge on yet. I think we're ready to actively help everyone."

Something the group prides itself on is its diversity of experiences and styles at each event. Different members rotate at Girl Friday, and Friday's DJs are Arthur Loves Plastic (downtempo electronica), Kitty La Rock (chilled beats and future funk), dj lil'e ('80s synthpop) and Suzy Cyclone (techno, tech-house and tech-trance). Ignore the jargon of the styles, and there's something there for fans of dance music, regardless of gender.

If you can't make it to the Black Cat, First Ladies members can be found at other events around town. Moritz, who specializes in downtempo and funky breakbeats, appears every Sunday starting at 9:30 at Bossa (2463 18th St. NW; 202-667-0088), and dj lil'e (Erin Myers) hosts a monthly British alternative event called "Right Round" once a month on the Black Cat's backstage.

Byron and Norma Sutton of Orlando dip into some fondue at the Washington Plaza Hotel's International Bar.