The two Irish bartenders stack the bottles for booze six rows deep and 72 across behind Nathan's gleaming wooden bar to please their Choosy Georgetown clientele. But members of the gang that gathers at the neighborhood bar have at least one taste in common: They love Ronald Reagan.
"Here's to Ronnie," one barstool sitter proclaims, raising his half-filled glass in a mock salute.
"He's doing just one hell of a good job," adds another.
Once, many of these over-30 writers, artists and mid-level executives saw the world through the eyes of John F. Kennedy and called themselves liberals. But now, instead of talking of saving the rest of the world, they talk more of themselves and their futures.
And despite Reagan's budget cuts, slum-dwellers pleading to save doomed federal programs and national polls showing a decline in the president's popularity, the group at Nathan's is still in Reagan's corner, as they were last November before the election. Lyrics from early 1960s Beatles songs drift from the jukebox in the corner, but the message from these people is of the more conservative 1980s. They are only a few people at only one Washington hangout, but to them Reagan's first two months in office have been a success.
"It just didn't work, the social programs," says Bart Whaley, a 40ish, free-lance military writer and dean of Nathan's dozen evening regulars, who always find their favorite drinks waiting after they step through the door. "It's time to try something radical and that's what Reagan is doing."
"I've always been a Democrat and a liberal," he brags. But in November, Whaley looked the other way and pulled the lever for Reagan."I was scared. wCarter was pusillanimous, especially in foreign policy."
"Some of his cuts are hurting me financially," says Whaley, who relies on government contracts. He pauses to flick his long silver hair from his eyes and take a sip of the house red wine, as a Casablanca fan slowly spins overhead. "But frankly, I'm delighted with him. It was time to cut government fat."
"Show me one person in government who does a decent day's work," demands Vince Sabecki, a stocky, spectacled Washington stockbroker and 10-year Nathan's veteran, who smacks a 65-cent tip on the bar after nursing a single $1.57 cocktail for nearly an hour. "You could fire nine out of ten government workers and never miss one of them. They've been making money off my back for years. Let them starve."
Government padding is unbelievable, proclaims Kevin Cummings, a U.S. Customs agent who lives only a few blocks from the bar. "Look, I'm in the government, I know.
"He's taking an ax to it, instead of a scalpel," says Cummings. "Reagan didn't have much time, you know. I don't like some of the cuts, like cutting Amtrak and the fine arts programs, but food stamps? It's about time.
"I read that when Reagan was governor in California only one out of four people getting food stamps kept getting them after he cleaned up the system."
Even one first-time customer to the bar at the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and M Street NW shares the regulars' sentiments.
"It really gets me when I see someone collecting welfare because he won't take a job like sweeping streets," says Rich Poelker, a wildlife biologist from Olympia, Wash., who is in town two weeks for military reserve duty, and just happened into Nathan's. "I was a major in the Army and when I got out I got a job cleaning toilets in a state park.
"No job is beneath the dignity of a man," he says, while toying with the tip of his handlebar moustache and finishing off a glass of beer. "But there are some men beneath the dignity of a job."
"The system was out of control," remarks Cummings, who adds that he recently earned an economics degree from Cornell University, where the federal government helped pay the bill. "Carter got bogged down. All you could do was hire blacks and women. I think the truly needy will be okay."
"I hope his cuts don't hurt the poor, especially the handicapped and older people," says Poelker. "But we got to learn how to take care of ourselves and make government do what it's supposed to do -- stay out of people's business. I got two houses now and I can't sell one because of these interest rates and the economy. I hope he changes that.
"It's going to take sacrifices by everyone and if that means not going on a long, fancy vacation out of the state, then I'll just stay in the state for my vacation.There's plenty to see there," Poelker says.
"All that whining and moaning by the media (about program cuts hurting the poor) is bull," Sabecki concludes. "Nothing is as black and white as the media makes it. They make it too simple. One newscast I saw showed a dwarf who came here for a job and then got caught in the job freeze and had to go back home. C'mon! That's sensationalism.
"No one knows yet what the affects will be. The media is just after him. Besides, what choice did we really have. Reagan would have to stay up nights thinking of ways to do as many dumb things as Carter did. I would have made a better choice than either of them."
"I really like what he's doing," Sabecki says, "Yes sir, I really like what I see."
"People are gonna be surprised," adds Cummings. "Reagan, he's going to get most of his budget cuts through Congress, you just watch. The people are tried of what's been going on.
"He's gonna get it done and that's all there is too it."