Open Mondays through Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m., Saturdays from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Street parking if you cruise. Stairs make access by wheelchair difficult to impossible.American Express. Amoco Torch Club. BankAmericard. Carte Blanche. Central Charge. Diners Club and Masters Charge.Reservations not necessary.

It takes some explaining, but our 10-year-old son is one of a fast-growing number of kids today who have forsaken the toy store for the package store. The rage is beer-can collecting, which - from a consumer standpoint, at least - needs a partnership that bridges the generation gap.

So what does this have to do with eating out? Nothing, unless you know that beer-can collectors' heaven is in a basement on 22d Street just off Massachusetts Avenue NW. It's the Brickskeller, where the menu goes on for a dozen pages but only one of them lists food.

No one here really talks about the food (although we will in just a bit). At the Brickskeller, the beer can is Topic A through at least X or Y. You wouldn't know from the outside, though, where it's only a canopy extending from the Marifex Hotel.

Once you're up the outside steps and before you wind up in a lobby, there's a door to the right and some dungeon-model steps leading down into what turns out to be a living museum of beer cans with trained handlers.

Every inch of this place that isn't showing the fine old brick walls is lined with exotic beer containers or collector lore.

That's what those many other pages in the menu are all about: There are hundreds of different beers in cold stock here. And the restaurant has the canniest cleanup system: The customers can take home all their empties in a bag.

So bug-eyed was our son that it took a mini-era before he was able to recommend two brands with which his parents might slake their thirsts while and he and his 8-year-old sister worked on soft drinks.

From the global directory of malt, I was tapped to try Royal Dutch from Holland and my wife was assigned a Stoney's from Pennsylvania.

Most of the domestic beers are in the $1.15 to $1.25 range, while imports are generally $1.60 to $2. There's also an endangered species list of beers that they'll price on request. All the beers arrive at the table upside down, by the way, because they're opened on the bottoms to maximize their beauty and value.

So what you end up seeing is lots of children and adults sitting around piles of upside-down beer cans. It looks like the "Before" part of a Keep-America-Beautiful ad.

Although the Brickskeller didn't have this heavy metal theme when I used to drop in during college days, the music in the juke box is pretty much the same: Elvis and "Love Me Tender" was playing as we finally turned to the food page of the menu.

The fare, although limited, is hearty. Out of a list of seven different pizzas from $1.75 small-and-plain to $5.50 big-and-the-works, our daughter went for pepperoni small at $2.25. Either she missed lunch or wanted to impress, but most of this abundant serving went her way.

While plotting his parents' next can selections, our son clamped down on a steak-and-cheese sandwich at $2.75, which had an impressive, stick-to-your-ribs look to it.

My wife volunteered for "the infamous Brickburger, a hamburger with bacon, salami, onion, cheese, lettuce, slaw," at $2.75 for the extra large. Zesty, she reported.

My perfect-for-the-occasion selection was the "saloon-style" beef stew at $3, served on a tin pie plate with toasted and buttered pumpernickel and a fresh salad with bieu cheese that the family shared. The stew won my vote mainly because it didn't have any onion balls.

Other dishes include a cheeseboard at $2.50, chili at $1.50, a BLT at $1.75, a ham club at $2.25, a hamburger at either $1.25 or $2.25 and a sizzling steak and salad at $6.75. In fact, you have now read the entire menu.

But check out the people. The couple next to us has been collecting beer cans since January. They've been coming every Sunday evening and have now collected some 400 cans and about 20 extra pounds between them, the two reported.

They have their own rules, too. Every can must be drained by one of them while they're togrether. Then the results of their head-to-head combat are meticulously entered in a neat loose-leaf notebook and crossed off the menu list.

While my wife and I were savoring an Oertels 92 and a Courage Lager respectively, we checked out the various nooks and crannies, including a bar where kids and adults alike were up on the stools watching Disney.

For this strictly instructional evening, our bill for everything came to $20.57 plus tip.

Brickskeller, 1523 22nd Street NW. Open Mondays through Fridays from 11.30 a.m. to 2 a.m., Saturdays and Sundays from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Street parking if you cruise. Stairs make access by wheelchair difficult to impossible. American Express, Amoco Torch Club, BankAmericard, Carte Blanche, Central Charge, Diners Club and Master Charge. Rerservations not necessary.