Champagne corks were popping and the scent of martinis wafted through the air at the Iranian embassy yesterday for the first time since the shah's people left in February and the abstemious Islamic republic took over.
But this event was in the style of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The liquor - more than 4,000 bottles of rare wines and expensive spirits - was flowing not down the throats of guests, but down the drain.
The entire liquor supply of former ambassador Ardeshir Zahedi, once the city's most lavish party-giver, had been carted up from his wine cellars and liquor cabinets to be emptied into a small fountain beside the terrace in back of his former residence at 3003 Massachusetts Ave. NW.
An embassy inventory of the liquor placed its wholesale value at about $22,000, but connoisseurs who were telephone yesterday afternoon its retail worth could be three times that amount.
A young woman who said she was speaking for the embassy press office said the liquor supply was discovered soon after the embassy and residence changed hands Feb. 11.
"It was a consensus that something must be done with this," she said, watching a magnum of Dom Perignon 1970 being poured away. "It could have been auctioned off or sold back to the retailers. But we checked with Ayatollah Khomeini (the spiritual leader of the Islamic republic) and he was the one who said it should just be disposed of . . . If you want to build an Islamic republic on principle then you want to start clean."
The Islamic government also launched a drive against drinking in Iran, and a similar emptying of bottles took place at the Shah's palace in Tehran after the revolution, the woman said.
The embassy's liquor was bought, according to a sign on the 10-foot high stack of cases, with "money of the oppressed people of Iran," but was especially onerous to the new regime because of the Koran specifically prohibits the faithful from drinking alcohol.
In liquor, the Islamic holy book says, there is "great sin, and some profit, for men; but the sin is greater than the profit.
Some wine merchants reached at home yesterday expressed dismay at the disposal of the Iranian liquor.
"That's incredible. What a waste," said Ed Sands of Woodley Wine and Liquor as the inventory was read to him: 23 cases of gin, about 20 more mor vodka (emptied along with 16 cases of vermouth, hence the martini smell), 23 cases of scotch; a long list of vintage wines, 20 cases of champagne that retails for $80 a magnum, and so on.
"Unbelievable," said Sands, "unbelievable." CAPTION: Picture, At the direction of Ayatollah Khomeini, the Iranian embassy pours its entire liquor supply down the drain. By Larry Morris - The Washington Post