The owners of the Whistle Stop bar have sued a Takoma Park citizens group for $40 million, contending that the group, Plan Takoma, Inc., libeled them by calling them "shady" in a leaflet the group distributed as part of a campaign to block the bar's liquor license.

The suit, filed in D.C. Superior Court, is part of a lengthy battle between the owners--Philip C. Poling, Paul F. Myers and H. Russell Miller--and area residents who objected to the opening of the Whistle Stop at 6916 Fourth St. NW. Poling bought the property, the former Lucky Lady Lounge, at a tax sale last year.

Plan Takoma President Randall McCathren said in an interview yesterday that he did not write the flyer and did not know who did. He said the flyer "does say Plan Takoma was opposing" the opening of the bar. He said the group did not distribute it.

"It was obviously distributed" by area residents, McCathren said, adding: "I can't say that some members of the community who may have come to meetings might not have distributed it."

Two others named as individual defendants in the suit, Loretta Neumann, head of a group called Neighbors Inc., and Gloria Johnson, who was then Advisory Neighborhood Commission chairman, said they had no involvement in writing the leaflet and both said they had told Poling they did not do so.

The bar opened April 20, 1981, after the city's Alcoholic Beverage Control board allowed the new owners to operate temporarily under the former owner's license.

But neighborhood groups feared Poling, former president of a Wisconsin Avenue topless go-go bar called the Godfather, would open a similar bar at the Takoma Park site. The groups lobbied with the board to deny a permanent license, and the board refused that license last August. Poling has denied that he intended to operate the Whistle Stop as a topless bar.

The bar is now closed, and Poling, who called the board's decision "capricious, arbitrary and politically motivated," has appealed the decision in the D.C. Court of Appeals.

In the suit filed Wednesday in D.C. Superior Court, the owners alleged that shortly after the bar opened, Plan Takoma, its officers and Neumann and Johnson wrote and circulated a letter captioned "Fight The Opening Of The Lucky Lady Lounge/Whistle Stop." The flyer, according to the complaint, called the owners a "shady group of bar owners who operated a number of topless/bottomless 'GO-GO' dancer bars in D.C., which are the hangouts of motorcycle gangs and toughs. . . . "

The owners said in their suit that the ABC board found them to be of "good moral character" and that the letter caused them to be "held up to ridicule" and damaged their reputation.

The owners also claimed in their court papers that Plan Takoma and the community activists "viciously, maliciously and dishonestly" attacked them and engaged in a "conspiracy" to get the board to deny the liquor license.