Georgetown and downtown Washington are laced with clubhouses.

No one knows exactly how many clubs are housed in the city's high-rise office buildings, stately mansions or sedate town houses. And at least one club makes its home in a historic Georgetown tavern and is aptly called the City Tavern Club.

Charles J. Graham, president of the National Capital Chapter of the Club Managers Association of America, said, "I think we have probably a larger club representation here in Washington than in any other large city."

The clubs are popular because members, most of whom are busy lawyers and government officials, are practically guaranteed that they can get a table for lunch or dinner, even on short notice, a room for a private party or space in the gymnasium.

To many residents the word "club" brings to mind the Foxtrappe at 1601 R St. NW or Pisces at 3040 M St. NW, which are really nightclubs that require membership cards.

But to some busy professionals, prominent national and local figures and matrons of Georgetown and Spring Valley, a club is a place to discuss business deals and matters of state and to gossip discreetly.

"I joined because it was a place where you could have dinner with a client and you know you could get a reservation even at the last minute," said Vernon Knarr, a commercial real estate broker and former member of the Gaslight Club at 1020 16th St. NW.

Lawyer Stephen Danzansky said he joined the 1925 F Street Club after lunching there with a friend. "I said, 'This is a lovely club. How do I join?' " Danzansky recalled. "It seemed like a quiet, discreet place to discuss business. It's fairly small. You don't go there to be seen."

Another lawyer, Frank Ikard, a longtime member of the Metropolitan Club, said, "The average club, like F Street, Metropolitan and International, would not exist but for the fact that it gives members a chance to have lunch and meet without a lot of reservations and elaborate plans."

The dining room at the Metropolitan Club, 1700 H St. NW, brims with businessmen but no one is allowed to display papers during lunch or dinner, a recent guest said.

Dr. Martin G. Allen, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical Center, explained club joining as "a natural reaffirmation of the basic group that we all belong to initially--the family."

There are clubs organized around a profession, such as the National Lawyers' Club, 1815 H St. NW, and the International Club, 1800 K St. NW, whose members deal with international business. Both clubs are in modern high-rise buildings.

Other clubs bring together political cohorts, such as the Capitol Hill Club, 300 First St. SE, and Woman's National Democratic Club, 1526 New Hampshire Ave. NW.

And others, such as the University Club, 1135 16th St. NW, and the Gaslight Club in the adjacent block, simply provide a "home away from home" where all types of businessmen can relax with their peers or clients.

Then there are the super-private clubs, such as the all-male Metropolitan and Alibi, 1806 I St. NW, and the women's counterparts, Sulgrave, 1801 Massachusetts Ave. NW, where men can only be associate members, and the nearby Washington Club, 15 Dupont Circle NW.

Members of these clubs must have the right combination of lineage, old money, education and social power.

A former member of Sulgrave, who asked not to be identified, explained its membership qualifications, saying: "There's a tendency for old money, but if a person has an official position or has done something marvelous for charity, then this is overlooked. Like anything else, it's who you know."

Some of the clubs and their addresses are well-known, such as the National Press Club, on the top floor of the behemoth National Press Building, at 14th and F streets NW.

But others eschew publicity and their headquarters are recognized by only their members and frequent guests. For example, the Alibi Club, housed in the last remaining town house on a block of office buildings, does not even have its name on the front door and only recently listed its phone number. The club is reputed to be the most prestigious for power brokers in Washington.

The lavish homes of prominent Washingtonians now house some of the city's most fashionable clubs.

The Washington Club, one of the city's oldest and most elite women's clubs, is in the former home of newspaper heiress and publisher Eleanor M. (Cissy) Patterson. The white marble mansion is the last remaining residence on Dupont Circle that was once ringed with the opulent houses of the wealthy.

The club was organized in 1891 as "a cultural and social club," said its current president, Dorothy M. Cox Lovett. Her response to other questions was, "We don't want anything published about us."

Down in Foggy Bottom, the F Street Club is housed in another large mansion, one of the last in a neighborhood that has been eradicated by the gradual expansion of nearby George Washington University.

The unadorned federalist-style house, built in the 1840s was turned into the home of the elite 1925 F Street Club in 1933 by its then owner Laura Gross.

"She lived there and entertained beautifully until she fell on hard times during the Depression," said Bess Abell, who was the White House social secretary during the Johnson administration.

"Her friends said, 'You entertain so beautifully why don't you plan parties for us and we will pay you?' That's how that club got started," Abell said.

These private clubhouses were once largely the sanctuaries of white males. Of the 16 clubs recently surveyed all said they would admit blacks and only two, the Metropolitan and Cosmos, 2121 Massachusetts Ave. NW, said they did not accept women members.

Membership totals ranged from fewer than 400 at the 1925 F Street Club to 8,000 at the Gaslight Club, a national chain. In all clubs, candidates for membership had to be sponsored by a member and approved by the membership committee.

Initiation fees ranged from a low of $50 at the National Press Club and the National Lawyers' Club to a high of $2,500 at the University Club and the Georgetown Club, 1530 Wisconsin Ave. NW.

As for services, the University Club in the next block has attracted many members because of its athletic facilities where members play squash or swim in an indoor pool. Afterward they can steam in the sauna or Turkish bath or enjoy a massage. There also are bedrooms and a library.