SUDS, PLUS: Theo DuPree is bringing Pearl Lee’s Washtub, a “laundro-bar,” to Crown Heights. (Photos/Hannah Bottum)

Week after week, New Yorkers regularly trek to one of the city’s 4,000 laundromats, more than a third of which are in Brooklyn.

Very few of them offer a chance to buy a drink as you wait for your wash to dry.

Theo DuPree, 57, a former nurse who retired just before the pandemic, thinks a laundromat with a bar can improve the experience.

“Nobody likes or says, you know, ‘I love doing laundry,’” the lifelong Brooklyn resident said.

That’s why he is planning to open Pearl Lee’s Washtub, a “laundro-bar” coming to Rogers Avenue and Montgomery Street in Crown Heights, this spring.

After loading their machines, visitors will be able to head to an adjacent room for wine, beer and cider, where they will be served at seven-seat bar and three high top tables. DuPree said Pearl Lee’s—named for a beloved aunt—will also offer burgers, hot dogs and even coffee and pastries for early-morning patrons. 

The laundro-bar, open from 8:30 a.m to 11 p.m. seven days a week, will have 10 washers, 10 dryers and Wi-Fi. Its five staff members will include two working behind the bar preparing food and drinks. Proof of vaccination will be required for entry, so two other employees will check identifications and assist with machine usage. On most days, DuPree will likely be on site as the manager. 

“It’s just something that—a sort of gathering place where you can, you know, knock off the chore of doing laundry and still gather amongst other people within the community,” he said.

Beverage service of any kind, even of the non-alcoholic variety, can give a new spin to doing your laundry.

“Yeah, that would be perfect. I always have to run out and grab something to drink,” said Karen Huskinson, 48, a nanny who was doing her wash at a laundromat a few blocks away from DuPree’s site. “And I’m always scared to leave my laundry.”

New for Crown Heights

A laundromat that serves food and drinks would be a first for Crown Heights, DuPree said, but it’s not a novel idea for Brooklyn.

Greenpoint has been home to Sunshine Laundromat and Pinball, which offered beer and game machines before closing during the pandemic, while Celsious in Williamsburg serves coffee and pastries. Other New York laundromats offer Wi-Fi, including Clean Rite Center, a multi-state chain with locations in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island. 

DuPree faced a few questions in getting the approval of Brooklyn’s Community Board 9, the first step in obtaining a state liquor license. At the October meeting, board member Suki Cheong raised concerns about cooking and food smells in the laundromat.

Others were concerned about the effects of serving alcohol.

“How is he going to be able to prevent if someone goes to the bar, and buys liquor, drinks liquor, maybe a little bit too much—I’m putting it very mildly—and then goes back to the laundry room, where there is a discrepancy with maybe someone?” at-large member Eve-lyn Williams asked. “How is he going to be able to control that?”

Pearl Lee’s Washtub is coming to this storefront on Rogers Avenue.

DuPree said the two bartenders will keep an eye on customers and cut them off if needed. Last call for alcohol will be at 10:30 p.m., last load for laundry will be 10 p.m.

“I just think the new idea of a laundromat and a bar, some people can’t wrap their head around it,” he said later. “But hopefully when I open, those that were skeptical can come in and see what we’re doing.”

DuPree said Pearl Lee’s laundry prices will be comparable to nearby laundromats. Rogers Laundromat, a block away at Rogers Avenue and Crown Street, charges $2 for regular-size washer and dryers and has drop-off services starting at $10. 

Pearl Lee’s—which will not offer drop-off services—will be a coin-free operation. 

“I don’t think I’ll attract an older generation because the older generation tends to stick to what they’ve been doing from years previously,” DuPree said. “Like using quarters.”

But Ray Mczick, 64, a retired postal worker who has lived in Crown Heights for more than a decade, says he is open to the idea.

While waiting outside a nearby laundromat, he expressed frustration with the combination of coin operations and old machinery.

“I just want to come to a laundromat where my clothes are dry,” he said.