IF YOU GO out at night in New York, you'll have company as long as you get in off the cold streets and into a hot club.

On a recent week's tour of Manhattan-by-Night, through rain, sleet, snow and worldwide depression, whoopee was being made and revelry given a whirl at all night spots visited, admittedly the pick of a fragrant bunch. Still, so amusing, too amazing.

Embarking on a Sunday night, pushing through a crowd clamoring in the cold outside the cavernous Red Parrot, down by the docks on West 57th Street, one is assured by the commotion that one has arrived at the smart spot one has been hearing about since the converted taxi garage opened as ballroom supreme a year ago.

(No crowd, no cachet, has been the byword in New York night spots since the Babylonian opening of Studio 54 in 1977, when word went out all over town that it was the scene to be making; ever since, the beseeching uninvited have been de rigeur outside any club worthy of the night.

(It is, however, a crowd to be risen above, and serenely pushed through.)

At the Red Parrot, which can hold 1,800 people, those granted entry by the stone-faced hulk (one of a professional subspecies guarding against the unfashionable all over Manhattan) are greeted by a lighted raised runway on which, as they glide by in their finery, they can be admired by those swinging and swaying on the nether dance floor to a 16-piece, heavy-on-the-horns, decidedly Old Wave dance band. Too a la mode.

Says a Bloomingdale's sales clerk with a fine-tuned eye for marginal fashion clues: "These are middle-of-the-road fashion victims; these are people who know who they are by the stitching on their jeans, and this is probably the only place they have to wear their glad rags--all that fantastic drag they come in to buy when they're already perfectly dressed.

"And the only way they can really show it is on that runway. It's all entrances and exits."

Off the ramp, fashion modeled, into the bar, cruising heavy, it is an assemblage that looks as if it wants to experience Saturday Night Fever Live.

Between band sets, recorded disco switched on, ensembles are given a minisecond of fame by the strobe lights, and through a mob of writhing, packed-together bodies, a fat, middle-aged woman in harlequin glasses leads an elderly gentleman, his feet shuffling, mouth agape. What could he have been thinking? Too lively?

Boisterous youth scattered about the further fringes of districts noted for easy parking and low rent, there is still, in the Midtown canyons, for those with memories of nightclubs as shown in old movies, fun to be had in a necktie.

At, for instance:

* Indigo, on 58th off Madison, a supper club featuring everyone from Myron Cohen to Eddie Fisher, always with a warm-up act, and the businessmen may be with a wife, a girlfriend or a pal, but inevitably, on the expense account.

* The local branch of the Parisian disco-dansant-nightclub, Regine's, at Park and 59th, where Coca-Cola, like everything else, is $9 a shot, never mind the $15 to get in weeknights, if you're properly attired. The gang dipsy-doodling on the lucite dance floor gives semblance of those who've made their money not only recently, but fast, and on a rainy, cold Tuesday night, all certify each other's worth.

* Club A, at 333 E. 60th St., where one could have been served Perrier at $6 a glass and bounc ed shoulders on the dance floor with Europeans and South Americans hoping this is where the action was--very Phillipe Junot. But considering how snotty they were on the telephone, one passes.

* The Wild Cat, on East 56th off Third, where rock impresario Jerry (The Ritz) Brandt is presenting rip-off homage to the Crazy Horse Saloon in Paris, with lithesome lovelies prancing bare-cheeked to tape recordings of exuberant tunes and girlish squeals. For those, like the Japanese, who get up early, there's an 8 p.m. matinee.

(For both shows it's a $25 cover and a two $5-drink minimum and, be advised, wherever the attraction is more than food or drink there will be an entertainment charge, either at the door or, in sit-down establishments, announced on the table, or a minimum, or both. No free lunches, no free shows, in this burg.)

* Cafe' Versailles, formerly the Ibis, operated as both at 151 East 51st St. by onetime Air Maroc stewardess Samiha Koura, and where now bare-breasted goddesses disport themselves in all manner of feathers. They are supported by three less-heavenly chorus boys, a magician, a mime and, what's more, enough of an audience to make it a snappy show.

And, then, just upstairs--one could have gone on to Marty's and Michael's Pub, but who needs to go to Third Avenue for middle-aged jazz when your liberated date is on her eighth drink--is the Sultan Room, what remains of the Ibis, where at short intervals Egyptian musicians, belly dancers and singers are showered with loose-leaf packets of dollar bills by carousers. Too exuberant.

For less jaded tastes, for a wholesome Wednesday night date, of any imaginable persuasion (and at any Manhattan hot spot worth its kudos there will be a sexual-racial-socio-economic mix), cabaret is again sprouting up.

Firstmost, for rollicking satire, is "Forbidden Broadway," at Palsson's Upstairs, on 72nd west of Broadway, where theatrical star attitudes are so deftly skewered as to obviate the need to see the shows themselves, and what a savings. At Palsson's on a weeknight it's only a $14 entertainment charge and a $10 minimum.

Down at Upstairs at O'Neals', on 43rd off Broadway, for $18.50 times-two but no minimum, six youngish things spotlight perky revue patter by Martin "Annie" Charnin, in hommage to Julius Monk's Upstairs at the Downstairs of the better-bred past. It's fast.

For more worldly sophistication and a suave maitre d', there's night-club soul-singing at Sweetwater's, at Amsterdam and 68th, behind Lincoln Center, much patronized by black professionals and white women in jackets.

One could go on, to Don't Tell Mama on West 46th Street, where the stage set puts on shows, and one probably should go to s.n.a.f.u., just above Greenwich Village on Avenue of the Americas where Lewis Friedman, formerly of Reno Sweeny, is developing newer, more daring talent. Then, why not go on to the Bottom Line and Other End, in the Village, for post-'60s pop potpourri? But that might be too entertaining.

On Thursday night, one joins young merrymakers in urban frolic and starts sensibly, it being a school night, at 10, going from S.O.B.'s to Heartbreak to the Pyramid to discover that one should return after midnight.

One spends the interval discussing modern music with a Lower East Side jazz guitarist who decries the lack of "bebop-freebop-post-punk-avant-fusion" in the "West Side clubs" of Greenwich Village, but that's Friday night's tour, and then returns to pay $3 to the rouged doorman at the Pyramid, on the far shores of Avenue A. It's jumping, although not in an uncool way.

In the ratty back room, behind a bar where the young men are either too poor or not inclined toward dates, and after dancing to such as Lesley Gore, the Vicky Awards are presented, for the best victimization one-liner, such as "my boyfriend likes women so much he forces me to dress like one," with appropriate ceremony by the Bad Seed Players. Too television.

Downstairs is the invitations-only club within the club, maintained these days by any boite claiming chic, and where from 6 to 9 that evening there had been a picture exhibition of works painted that day.

Explains one patron, discussing the dank ambiance, "It's for poor, creative people," but limousines, as at any club worth a rope at the door, wait outside the Pyramid, too, amidst the remains of slum housing. Too punk.

There is a theory about that all such glamor spas of dingy genre are descended from the Mudd Club, which opened on White Street just off TriBeCa in 1979 in reaction against, say trend followers, "The whole glitzy Studio 54 rich jet-set uptown money scene." The opposing ideal being, says another night-shift observer, "dirty and ugly, no decorations, no lighting, but the music is New Wave."

Such New Wave establishments currently include Danceteria, on West 21st Street off Fifth, where the dressing is up and the kids adorable, on occasion the new-old-new-several-times-transformed Peppermint Lounge now at 100 Fifth Ave., which is so cool you can catch acts on the live video at the bar and, certainly, CBGB & OMFUG, the kick-out-the-jams shrine where loud, fast and violent, they're now slam dancing and you don't want to know anything more about it.

Also, the three-year-old Ritz, on East 11th Street off Fourth Avenue, presents what's left of record-company-supported rock 'n' roll of all waves, most especially to 19-year-olds at 1:30 in the morning, after they've been watching rock video for preceding hours but before they've even started dancing. Too late.

As for the original theater-as-clubs that crested on the disco wave, Studio 54 and Xenon both continue, if abated; the former is now patronized by preppies lost-in-a-legend and the always latter Xenon, opened by a man who couldn't get into "the studio" on its grand opening night, sometimes attracts socialites looking for celebrities and vice versa, and often provides the sensation that your feet may stick to chewing gum.

They were particularly hot, as was Les Mouches, also still going on up in a warehouse over on 11th Avenue at 26th Street, when homosexualists were first to be seen dancing with each other in public places. That frisson having gone foof, it's been back to the shadows of such as the Saint, a members-only men's dancing club installed in the high-teched remains of the old Fillmore East. Although fabled, it is rarely discussed. Too gay.

But one can't be everywhere and after the Pyramid it's west across town to the Heartbreak on Varick Street, just below Seventh Avenue. Going on for one o'clock in the morning, a cafeteria full of young folks and then some are bobbing up and down to music of the early '60s, veritable Motown concertos. The formica tables, on which genuine blue-collar workers had dined earlier that day, had been pushed back to the walls before the jeunesse dor'ee were allowed in at $10 each.

This group is groomed, loose and rhythmic--could they all work in those office towers up on Sixth Avenue in the '50s?--and when John Denver comes plunging through, a feral expression on his smooth face, he looks so habitue' as to require a double take. Too keen.

A block north, at Sounds of Brazil, once a printing-trades coffee shop, now a nightclub, too cunning, the perspiration, as Brasil 2000's seven musicians and two feverish dancers take New York by as much storm as the law allows, is less deodorized. The performers are so intoxicated by themselves that the spectator can't help be, as should be in the early hours of Friday morning, transported outside himself. But for a Thursday night, possibly too thrilling.

For jazz there are easily two dozen clubs and incubators, ranging from the frankly serious in out-of-the-way lofts to Greene Street, a mammoth chatterbox on the Soho street of the same name. There, in a gutted truck warehouse the size of a dirigible hangar, the lovely decor includes murals, sparkling lit palm trees and the music. Only the conversation is heavy.

If you were on a serious jazz crawl, you'd go by the Village Vanguard, for world-class jazz, the Cafe' Carlyle for cafe' jazz, The West End, up at Columbia, for beer-drinking jazz and beatnik memories, to the Cookery for prewar jazz, the Village West on Abingdon Square, for adventurous jazz admired by the Europeans and to Jazz Forum and Soundscape for up-to-the-minute loft jazz.

But if you were me you would have closed down the week at Lush Life (at Thompson and Bleecker) for straight-up-and-down-mainstream and the proprietor's mother's cheesecake, the Blue Note (Third Street and Sixth Avenue) to hang out with college boys and a jazz guitarist, Sweet Basil (Seventh Avenue, just above Bleecker) where for a $7.50 cover and $5 minimum Pharoah Sanders, raw and urgent, would have been cheap at twice the price, and finally, if briefly, down at Seventh Avenue South, where the house specialty is pop-fusion jazz, as in commercial.

But wait, just down the street there, next to the subway entrance, behind the limousines, is S.O.B.'s, and tonight it's the power sambas of Pe-De-Boi and they're bringing their first set to musical climax and who could resist?

And we haven't even made it yet to the comedy clubs, the reggae clubs and the salsa spots, the Lone Star, Folk City or Trax, the revived Roseland, or roller skating at the Roxy or Irish jigs at Tramps. Not to mention the after-hours clubs, AM/PM, the Continental and Berlin. But one certainly isn't going to go out in this town on Saturday night. That would be, surely, too much.