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For Big Fish Only

Just don't tell the squares back home

Pisces obviously met a felt need among certain Washingtonians, because it was an immediate success. Nine-hundred people have paid $600 to join (the price goes up to $1000 next year), plus $180 annual dues. Non-residents and those under the age of 32 get special rates. "There are no barriers," Malatesta says. "Black, white, female, whatever. We have a fine black contingent."

The older and stuffier clubs around Washington, like the Metropolitan Club (city) and the Chevy Chase Club (country) jealously guard their membership lists. But Malatesta is more than happy to reel off a sampling of his members As well he might be; it is an impressive list of politicians, journalists, lobbyists, diplomats and movie stars. Tip O'Neill, of course, this season's least likely cult figure; Ed Brooke, part of the "fine black contingent"; the omnipresent Smith Bagleys, self-made celebrities of the Carter era as Malatesta was during Nixon's;. Carter Brown, director of the National Gallery; Frank Ikard, president of the American Petroleum Institute. From the world of journalism, Malatesta brags of Philip Geyelin, editorial page editor of The Washington Post, and Douglas Kiker and David Brinkley of NBC. From corporate America, there are both Robert Andersons, the heads of Rockwell International and Atlantic Richfield. Mrs. Anna Chennault, the faded socialite; Thomas Hale Boggs, Jr., son of and lawyer-lobbyist. Well, you get the idea, Malatesta's list also includes 31 ambassadors, such as the two leading glamorosi of the diplomatic corps: Alejandro Orfila, secretary-general of the OAS, and Ardeshir Zahedi, ambassador from Iran. "Alex met his wife here—while I was dating her," Maiatesta says. And, "We had a birthday party for Zahedi one night and Cloris Leachman and Pearl Bailey got up on the dance floor and did an impromptu 15-minute show."

This is not cafe society; these are important (or at least self-important) people. Many of them, you would suppose, have very little in common. Indeed many of them—journalists and politicians. Republicans and Democrats, lawmakers and law breakers—occasionally like to strike a mutually antagonistic pose for public consumption. But they are all Washington VIPs, and apparently they regard this as a connecting principle sufficient to justify the time and money spent in one another's company.

 Pisces is located in Georgetown, in the basement of a movie theater. It was designed by a New York firm that helped Jacqueline Kennedy redecorate the White House. At the entrance, there is a sweeping staircase leading down to a waterfall. There are fish everywhere, flown in from all over the world. One tank is located at the bar. It once was the home of a nurse shark named "Maxine," after Maxine Cheshire, the Washington Post gossip reporter who has relentlessly pursued Malatesta and some of his questionable connections. Another tank, filled with sea horses, is in the game room. A 1000-gallon salt-water aquarium, containing a lemon shark called "Baby Jaws," sits near the dance floor. A custom-made coral carpet from Ireland, worth $35,000, covers the floor. Miniature palm trees are strategically placed in all three rooms. Paintings by local Washington artists "grace" the walls. "Understatement is not its strength," says one recent guest. "It's sort of a cross between Miami Beach and Beverly Hills." There is a private banquet room, off of the main dining room, called "The Warhol Room," after Malatesta's friend Andy Warhol. Several years ago Malatesta decided to throw a party for Warhol, whom he did not know. That's how they met.

You don't have to be a member to spend an evening in Pisces. You can be a member's guest. Or you can just be somebody important. "The wife of the President of Mexico has been in about four times," Malatesta says, "They called us once from the plane and said she was coming right over. Margaret Trudeau came in one night with the Canadian ambassador. She had a very good time. A very pleasant lady." Some of the Carter sons have been in, he says, as well as the President's cost-cutting nephew, Hugh.

 One person who was instrumental in launching Pisces was South Korean wheelerdealer and influential purchaser Tongsun Park, now reposing abroad. Malatesta makes no attempt to downplay or hide his association with Park. "We are very good friends," he says. "We still talk on the telephone frequently. I'm sorry for any misfortunes he has had. My contact with him was totally social. We never talked about business. I had no idea what he was up to." Park, however, was financially involved in Pisces. "He asked if I needed financial support," Malatesta says. "He arranged to make a loan possible from his company to our management company. He is not a member of the board of directors. All he did was put up some money. We are in the process of buying him out. He has only been in the club four times." Malatesta says the Park connection has not hurt the club.

A fairly well-known congressman, who is thinking seriously about running for the Senate, and his wife, were talking recently of a wonderful evening they spent at Pisces. I told them I was planning to write this article, and wanted to ask them a few more questions. "Oh no," the wife said quickly. "Everything we said is off the-record. Don't mention us at all. The people back home don't know. And they wouldn't like it."

 This article originally ran in the July 9, 1977 issue of the magazine