If you're at a loss for a conversational topic at a cocktail Party or while waiting in line to be checked out at the supermarket, try a couple of questions about Reston.

"Have you ever been there?" is one that may stop a good number of people who live in the District and Maryland. Many of them, as well as a fair number of Northern Virginians, have probably not put wheels inside this 7,400-acre new town, started 15 years ago in Fairfax County by New York developer Robert E. Simon.

Or you might try this conversational ice-breaker: "What new town in America has an operating bourbon distillery as an unobtrusive centerpiece?"

Reston again. The A. Smith Bowman distillery has been operating there since the mid-1930s, when the Volstead Act was replealed. Reston was carved out of rolling farmland that once belonged to A. Smith and Delong Bowman.

If you insist on being topical, you might ask: "How much do you think Gulf Reston, Inc, is asking for the residual part of Reston that has been listed with Goldwell Banker's Los Angeles office?"

The answer could keep you talking for hours. The asking price is not being divulged because of "current negotiations under way." But you could make a guess of about $150 million and probably be not too far off.

The Reston package includes 3,600 undeveloped acres, three shopping centers, 1,000 apartments and Gulf's share of a meeting-center hotel complex. Gulf says it has put its Reston assets on the markets because it wants to concentrate on energy-related projects.

A conversation could continue about the identify of any interested purchaser of Reston - or of any new town, for that matter. So far, none of these planned communities has proved to be a money-maker.

However, both Reston and Columbia, Md., are regarded as among the most successful of the new towns that were born in the 1960s.Few, if any, real new towns have been spawned since 1973.

Today, about 29,000 people live in more than 10,000 dwellings in Reston. Restonians pay little attention to the quiet distillery, where a good grade of bourbon is produced, bottled and aged. The brewery sits on a 30-acre tract in the northern section of Reston. Most of the time, it employs about 50 workers.

Reston is also home for 22 national associations and nearly 300 industries, businesses and other employers, who provide more than 8,400 jods. About 39 per cent are filled by people who live in Reston.

The average Reston family earns about $27,000 and the median number of completed school years for adults is 16.1, said to be one of the highest in the county. Reston's housing, despite the large parcel of ground and the location 27 miles from the White House, is predominantly a mix of low-rise apartments and town houses account for only 16 per cent of the dwellings and the closely clustered patio homes make up 3 per cent of the mix, the same propotion as high-rise apartments.

One of Reston's first major structures was its landmark high-rise on Lake Anne. A high-rise for elderly also stands near the lake, keystone of what now might be called the Old Town area of a new town that really isn't all that new anymore. Another high-rise for the elderly is also under way in the southern part of the community.

Ever since November, when a formal announcement confirmed rumors about Reston going on the market, Reston officials have been emphasizing the contruction activity under way there. James W. Todd, President of Gulf Reston, Inc., and Francis C, Steinbauer, the general manager and executive vice president, point out that projects worth more than $55 million are currently in the works.

"Regardless of the fact that Gulf Oil's major holding here is safe," said Todd, "we have a strong program of development and improvements. In addition, we are excited by the chance that Fairfax County may take advantage of our offer of 150 free acres for a county administration center to serve the northern part of this sprawling county . . ."

Cognizant that , for the first decade of its existence, a somewhat isolated location has been a Reston drawback, Todd now is counting on the fact that the community is no longer is as "far out" as it was in 1963. Nearby Herndon and Sterling Park in Loudoun County have grown markedly and a number of new residential projects are likely to be built near Dulles Airport in coming years.

Mention of Dulles has always been a burr in the saddle of Reston executives. The non-access road to that airport spilts Reston into north and south sections. The underused, four-lane, divided highway has never been available for commuting other than to the airport.

But now Todd and Steinbauer, who had a hand in building the road and who has lived in Reston for years, are increasingly optimistic that starte and local officials will agree to convert rights-of-way on both sides of the way into accessible, parallel roads. But that's still a bit of a dream today.

Steinbauer maintains that the housing now being offered in Reston represents an almost total in Reston represents an almost total spread - from single-family houses with fairly moderate price tags, to closely located Woodward and Lothrop and used as a promotion site for all of Reston. (The town house model decorated by Bloomingdale's drew 50,000 visitors last year.) The contemporary Katz house, located by a lake that has remained unnamed since artist Andrew Wyeth said "no thanks" to Lake Wyeth, will have a wood foundation and a system devised by the American Wood Council to reduce energy needs and contruction costs."

By spring, when the Katz house is expected to be finished and ready for visiting, the new bridged extension of Wiehle Avenue should be completed over the Dulles road, providing a second link between north and south sections of Reston. A Reston group recently bought the fine old DeLong Bowman residence from Gulf and plans to turn it in a country inn.

Reston's first high school is expected to be open next September. And the citizens' own community center (with a live theater group among other activities) may be ready before Christmas.

Reston may have a new owner too. Robert W. Draine, the senior Coldwell Banker vice president handling the sale of Reston and some other Gulf Oil properties in the South, said this week that is is "likely" Reston will be sold in 1978 to a group experienced in new patio houses, town houses of varied designs and sizes and rental and condominium apartments.

Attorney Calvin Larson likes living and working in Reston because he can "swim to and from my office." His house and office are opposite sides of Lake Anne and he says often swims [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]

Houston Park, who is handling residential sale for Gulf Reston, says sales and rentals have been strong.

"In fact, we are aware that Reston is now an old new town," he said recently. "There is a distinct cult of buyers who want to be our older town houses and singles and apartmnets near Lake Anne. You see, that area is our Georgetown or Old Town Alexandria . . . a section of historic Reston. Some of those original apartments and town houses are bringing fantastic prices in the resale market."

more than a dozen Redskins, including joe Theismann, Calvin Hill, Eddie Brown and Dennis Johnson, live in Reston, which is convenient to Redskin Park.

One or both ways several times a week when the weather is suitable.

Larson moved with his family to Reston in 1967 and commuted to an office building near the White House. Six years later, they relocated to Denver, where he joined a law firm.

Larson, unwilling to commute to downtown Washington again, opened an office in Reston and "toughed it out. I always wanted to work near where I lived. Now ny wife has a business here and we both can walk to our offices."

As chairman of planning and zoning for Reston's active citizens group. Larson would like to see few more high-rise builidings built, both to fill out the range of choices and to preserve open space.

So would Karl Ingebritsen, a former CIA employee who moved into a real estate management career.

"These have been exciting years for me and my family," said Ingebritsen, who was active in citizens association work before he became a Reston manager. "I like the new town concept because it avoids what I call 'islands of housing' that are so common in the Washington area. I just hope that Gulf Reston finds the right buyer - one with a sinse of dedication as well as a desire to make a dollar."

Peter J. Cannon, an engineer who established his own marketing consultant business in Reston several years ago, and who lived there 12 years, says Reston is not utopia, and shares in same problems of their American communities.

"We may have had more than our share of drug problems," he said. "We needed medical facilities for years before ACCESS (a mini-hospital for emergency treatment) was opened. But, on balance, I like Reston and our custom-built house near Lake Anne."

In South Reston, where much of the new residential construction has been concentrated in recent years, builder Warren Katz is well along witha house designed by architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen.

Before the Katz family takes possession, the house will be decorated by town developments. The asking price is likely to deter any quick-buck folks.

Finally, a remembrance of founder Robert E. Simon, who lost control of Reston to Gulf in 1967.

Earlier Simon established seven goals, including making Reston a place for leisure, privacy and a lot of other good things. His seventh goal was to make Reston a financial success. He didn't succeed.

Neither did Gulf due mainly to a sharp general downturn in the realty market in 1974-75 and some sewer moratorium problems. Now, Restonians and others interested in real estate and other development have to recognize that it will take a special kind of purchaser to maintain Reston's living guidelines and also complete development by 1986 - and make a profit too.