There were rival lunches on Embassy Row yesterday -- one inside the exclusive Cosmos Club, and one on the sidewalk across the street in protest of the club's men-only membership policy.

The symbolic al fresco meal opposite the club at 2121 Massachusetts Ave. NW was put on by the D.C. Chapter of the National Organization for Women.

Protesters sat at a table with the sign, "D.C. NOW Cafe," and the motto, "Gender-free power lunches served daily."

"Here we see women and men eating together, an event we would not see across the street at the Cosmos Club," said Melinda Moseley, president of the group.

The demonstration was aimed partly at focusing attention on a bill being considered by the D.C. Council.

The measure, sponsored by council member Jim Nathanson (D-Ward 3), would amend the city's human rights ordinance to specify that clubs with more than 350 members that serve meals regularly and accept payment from nonmembers for meals and accommodations not be allowed to exclude people on the basis of sex.

The male-only membership policies of the Cosmos Club at 2121 Massachusetts Ave. NW, and others of its kind have long been the subject of controversy.

Some city officials have said that the 109-year-old Cosmos Club's policies are already in violation of the human rights act, which prohibits discrimination based upon sex in any "place of public accommodation."

Advocates of the club's all-male status claim that their club is "distinctly private," a status permitted under the human rights law. In the past, club officials have sought to reprimand a club member who led a movement to admit women, and once attempted to have new members sign an oath promising not to try to change the bylaws that exclude women.

Opponents of the admissions policy say that the all-male members of the purportedly social club engage in professional "networking" that puts women at a professional disadvantage.

"We only ask that these clubs face reality, look themselves and each other in the eye, and open their doors to the 20th century," Moseley said.