Taking one small step for equality, the all-male Metropolitan Club of Washington has allowed female guests to bring their appetites where none have gone before: into the club's prestigious main dining room for lunch.

The club previously had allowed its women guests to eat evening meals in the main dining room, but forbade them to eat lunch there, relegating them to a second-floor auxiliary dining room.

The 124-year-old rule was officially bent last week.

"We're glad to welcome our lady guests into the main dining room," club President John Kane said yesterday. Kane declined to reveal why the decision was made.

Along with the 107-year-old Cosmos Club, the Metropolitan Club has been the focus of recent D.C. Council efforts to eliminate one-sex membership policies.

In late September, the council voted unanimously to extend its wide-ranging antidiscrimination law to cover the District's major private clubs, specifically those that have at least 350 members, serve meals regularly and receive outside payment for dues or rental facilities.

Kane said the club's new rule was not established in response to either recent council action or continuing clamor from women's rights groups. "It's purely coincidental, and it's really not that significant of a thing," he said. The club does not have any plans to open its membership to women anytime soon, Kane said.

Council member Jim Nathanson (D-Ward 3), who sponsored the council's antidiscrimination measure, expressed polite disbelief that the club had just made such a decision.

"Well, it's friendly, it's very nice, but it's still a little unreal," Nathanson said. "Even the Cosmos Club has been allowing women in its dining room for lunch for years."

The Metropolitan Club, located near the White House and a venerable respite for the city's male movers and shakers, has adapted well to the sudden switch in lunchtime policy, Kane said.

"It was generally accepted," he said. "I do not think there has been a big difference, and I honestly do not anticipate any."