Rape Claim Against Kennedy Member Casts Pall Over Trendy Au Bar Club With PM-Kennedy Case-Palm Beach.

PALM BEACH, FLa. (AP) _ As the winter social season drew to a close, rich and trendy locals packed Au Bar, the small, posh club where the scandal involving the Kennedy family began three weeks ago.

But even as they celebrated this past weekend, many habitues said a woman's allegation that she was raped at the Kennedy compound after partying at Au Bar three weeks ago cast a pall over the club, reminding them of the town's dark side.

''The myth of Palm Beach is that it's where the rich and beautiful people have a wonderful time,'' said Peter West, 60, a British-born investor. ''But the reality is that it's only a place where they hope to have a wonderful time. They rarely find it.''

There was no sign of life over the weekend at the estate where the 29-year- old woman alleged she was raped by Sen. Edward Kennedy's nephew, William Kennedy Smith, in the early hours of March 30. Kennedy, his son Patrick and Smith had been drinking at the restaurant-club earlier that night.

In Jupiter, 20 miles north of here, the peach-colored house the woman shares with her 2-year-old daughter stood empty. Neighbors said she had returned just once in recent days to collect her mail.

Inside Au Bar, where many said they knew both the woman and members of the Kennedy family, the good life she shared seemed in full swing.

As they moved between the chintz-covered sofas, pink-striped draperies, marble bar and crowded dance floor, the regulars described an intricate social scene and a certain decadence.

''Hey, are you on mushrooms or what?'' yelled one patron to a waiter who was ignoring his request for a drink and dancing alone in a corner. The waiter danced over and yelled ''No, Ecstasy 3/8'' - another mood-altering drug.

Bruce Bronfman, who said he was heir to a Canadian real estate fortune, was at Au Bar with six friends. They waited at a corner table for ''the scene to change. The oldsters leave around midnight and the younger crowd comes in. Then things get wild.''

One of Bronfman's friends, he said, just bought 14 houses in the area so ''he could tear them down and build a play farm and put in a fake beach all just for his 6-year-old daughter.''

Russell Allen, 31, who said his family made a fortune in real estate, said he always arrives at Au Bar with a set strategy. First, he checks in with the manager, who ''tells me who's here, who's available and who to stay away from.''

Allen, who is single and wants to remain that way, greets women in the bar by handing them little cream-colored envelopes with his ''calling card'' inside.

''I've dated the most beautiful women in the world,'' he said, showing off his black velveteen shoes, lined in red satin and embroidered with a skull and crossbones.

''But deep down inside, they're all the same,'' he said. ''They just want the best house and the best car and they want you to give it to them.''

Jeffrey Handler, 49, a businessman who divides his time between New York and Florida, concurred.

''All the 'girls' here between 35 and 40 are a bunch of mercenaries,'' he said. ''The men aren't that much better. I see a lot of cheats and hustlers here.''

Doree Slater, 54, who sat alone on a bar stool in black silk shorts with a red bow in her hair, has lived in Palm Beach since 1979. She said she was divorced from a man whose family made a fortune in surgical supplies.

''Basically, this is a great place to make friends,'' she said. ''But if what I hear happened is true, it's par for the course and I hope justice is done. My daughter is 23 and she gets smashed here, but she shouldn't have something bad happen to her just because she's trying to have fun.''