Someone finally has built a better laundromat.
Nestled in a neon-lit suburban strip of low-rise apartment complexes and fast-food joints, there's a place where you can clutch dry chablis in one hand, Croissant Cordon Bleu in the other, saunter up to the woman sorting her socks over at dryer 16, and, with New Wave music pulsating from overhead speakers, get off a truly suave line.
Like, "Say babe, used any good soaps lately?"
It's called Barwash. It is a laundromat-restaurant-bar-pickup joint. What discos did to shopping malls, what exercise classes did to discos, Barwash one day may do to exercise classes.
Is this destined to become the quintessential American mating place? "Well, it's sure a good conversation-starter," said David Walsh, 25.
Barwash is the brainchild of four Walsh brothers -- and their dad, affectionately known in the family as "Deep Pockets" -- who started in Connecticut and all landed in Austin after living in eight or 10 different states between. "We have seen the back roads of laundromats," said Scott Walsh, 26.
They are not the first to try to improve on laundromats. Sprinkled around the country are laundromats that have installed bars or kegs of beer.
The brothers scoff. "The others have all brought bars down to the level of laundromats. We are elevating a laundromat to the level of a restaurant," David said.
"Nobody's done what we've done," said Scott.
At Barwash, a jagged-angled glass wall separates the laundromat area from the sleekly decorated, white-on-white restaurant and bar, sealing off noise, heat, humidity and unpleasant associations.
The brothers insisted that the wall not be photographed. "It's sort of our own concept," said Scott. They said they are trying to franchise nationwide, and they're not in the business of giving out secrets.
The food is standard laundromat fare -- anchovy caper garlic spread with French bread; baked Danish ham and Jarlsburg cheese on a croissant; turkey, liver pate, sweet peppers and shallot mustard on a roll, and a dessert called Chocolate Orgasm.
The wall hangings are framed Fels-Naphtha ads from Ladies' Home Journals of the 1920s.
The specials? Last Tuesday, you got a free run of the dryer with your breakfast sandwich. Soon, to attract a daytime housewife crowd, they'll be offering free folding for anyone who has lunch and watches the afternoon soap operas on the oversized TV. Similar specials already are in place for the football games.
And, of course, there's a house policy: any patron who becomes too inebriated to fold the wash can have it done half-price.
On a recent evening, about two dozen customers came into Barwash in 90 minutes. They were in their 20s or 30s, and all seemed stunned by Barwash.
"You can sit down at a table, drink a beer, and for a few moments forget you are doing your laundry," said Katie O'Neill, 31, who had come with her stepdaughter.
"It takes the pain out," said Steve Buck, 28, a construction worker who was sipping a dark beer.
Over at the bar, two patrons were talking in whispers. In the back area, little Danny Harrison, age 2, was cavorting at the Lego table. "This sure beats spending two hours yelling at him for picking garbage off of the floor," said his mother, Mary Jane, 26, who was in for her third time.
"I heard the ads" on a local rock station, she said. "I wondered if I should come here. I thought it'd be a bunch of guys trying to pick people up. But it seems cool. I don't feel threatened here."
Nearby, Steve Culver, 31, a carpenter, was heaving down a few frosty ones with his buddy, Gary. Culver was wearing a thin gold chain around his neck, a tight red sweater beneath a freshly pressed flannel shirt, designer jeans and dress-up boots.
"It feels sort of funny getting spiffed up to go to the laundromat, but hell, I'm sick of the partying scene," he said.