Five years ago, jazz guitarist Charlie Byrd was the first performer at Charlie's Georgetown, the waterfront club that bore his name and a reputation as one of Washington's most elegant nightspots.
By a coincidence of scheduling, Byrd will also be the final performer when the supper club closes its doors June 30 because of a chronic failure to turn a profit.
Byrd simply happened to be booked for the date months ago, said club spokeswoman Nancy Cole, when the possibility that the club might fold was only a rumor.
"It's ironic," Cole said yesterday, "but it's fitting."
Charlie's Georgetown generally has been regarded as one of the few clubs in which to enjoy high-quality jazz in a city where not many such establishments survive for very long.
During its five years, the nightspot had an impressive list of investors large and small, including socialites Juliet and Lee Folger and former president Ford's press secretary, Ron Nessen.
The nightspot had sold-out performances by Sarah Vaughan, Pearl Bailey, George Shearing and Oscar Peterson.
It also had soft sofas, flowers and revolving art gallery exhibits.
But it did not have, said Cole, "the magic formula to succeed."
Cole said that the monthly big-name acts made money; the lesser-known acts did not.
The club's first show, at 8:30 p.m., often was sold out, Cole said, but the 10:30 p.m. show seldom filled the room.
"Washington will never be a New York," she said. "It's a government town. The people have to get up early and so they go to bed early."
But critics of Charlie's Georgetown long had contended that the club was too expensive to draw large crowds, its stage was too small and poorly positioned, its lighting was less than theatrical.
And the club, on the Potomac River at 3223 K St. NW, could seat only about 170 people.
When the big-name acts performed, there was a $25 cover charge and a $5 drink minimum, plus dinners costing more than $50 per couple.
With lesser-known names, however, the cover charge dipped as low as $5, Cole said.
The sold-out performances, while profitable, also were costly.
Vocalist Sarah Vaughan, for example, commanded $25,000 per performance, not counting limousine services and hotel accommodations for herself and her entourage, Cole said.
"They're all that way," she said, "and we still made money on the big names, but the little ones drained it away."
In recent months, the club had tried to cultivate a broader audience with occasional comedy and folk acts. But rumors about closing began to dominate conversations among the club's 70 employes.
"We were hoping we could survive until December, at least," Cole said. "We're all still in a daze, hoping that a white knight is going to come through and rescue us."