Upscale restaurant offers car wash, too

Customers can dine while their car gets cleaned and detailed

Do you want fries with that freshly washed Ferrari? Maybe your Honda needs a wax job at the exact same moment you’ve got a hankering for a nice glass of Merlot?

Fear not, Atlanta. In a city well known for its unique combinations — Ted and Jane, chicken and waffles — a deluxe car wash with an upscale restaurant attached was probably inevitable.

“We’re developing the country club of car washes,” said Lemont Bradley, CEO of the Auto Spa Bistro, which opened this month just a soapy chamois throw away from the hustle, bustle (and hunger) of the Downtown Connector on 14th Street. “The real problem is probably going to be us running out of space for customers.”

OK, maybe that’s a teensy bit hyperbolic on his part. Still, considering folks here spend nearly as much time eating out as they do stuck in traffic, nobody should be too surprised if taking care of our cars becomes the next hot social experience.

Located on what used to be the site of a rundown gas station, the Auto Spa Bistro has been extensively renovated and richly appointed in shades of royal purple and gray. One half of the operation is a hand car wash and detailing service that includes VIP lanes.

The other side is a restaurant that seats 50 and offers breakfast, lunch and dinner service. With two chefs on staff, the menu whimsically reinforces the auto theme — “Bugatti Burgers,” the “Audi 3-Egg Omelette,” etc. Flat screen TV’s dot the room, including above the handsome bar, which offers domestic and imported beers, wine and mixed drinks.

Car washes begin as low as $15 for an “Outside Only” cleansing (it comes with a free appetizer) and escalate up to top-of-the-line packages costing several hundred dollars. The breakfast buffet is free with a car wash, but you don’t have to have your car washed to frequent the restaurant. Similarly, for those sticks in the mud — er, busy people, who only want their cars washed, a VIP waiting room is equipped with free Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs.

There’s even outdoor seating so people can nosh and sip while seeing first hand their autos being pampered.

Or are they the ones being seen?

“If you have a really nice Ferrari, you might want people to know that’s your car,” pointed out Bradley, who hit on his novel business idea while watching customers drop off their vehicles at his former car wash location, then head out to socialize at places like Johnny’s Hideaway.

The idea’s just different enough to make delicious sense to Shaun Green.

“My kids are slobs and my car’s always a mess,” laughed the 37-year-old father of three, who lives near the Auto Spa Bistro in Home Park, the neighborhood stretching between Georgia Tech and Atlantic Station “I’d love to be able to pay someone to detail my car in my neighborhood so the dollars stay right here. And if I can relax and have a beer while it’s going on, even better.”

Green is on the board of the Home Park Community Improvement Association, which worked with Bradley on issues like hours of operation, security and licensing. Early on, some residents voiced concerns about the planned new business — especially when a sign went up during renovations.

“When you live in Atlanta and you see the word ‘spa,’ you instantly think of other things,” Green said. “People thought it was a strip club coming in.”

(For the record, “spa” is a reference to the all-hand-wash aspect of this particular car wash. “We bathe your car,” Bradley said several times during a pre-opening interview and tour.)

Some people also worried that a car wash that serves alcohol (albeit in a separate room) might somehow encourage drinking and driving. While pointing out that the same thing could be said for almost any restaurant or bar with a parking lot, Bradley said his security staff, including an off-duty Atlanta police officer at night, should help calm such fears.

Meanwhile, the unique business could bring a different kind of buzz to Home Park, which many outsiders know mostly as “that place on the way to Ikea.”

Said Green: “If he succeeds we could have a whole of people coming through our neighborhood to see something that doesn’t exist anywhere else.”

A few others have attempted what Bradley’s doing. Time Out New York recently named the Broadway Bridge Wash & Lube that city’s “classiest car wash.” But its bar only serves espressos. In Edinburg, Texas, the Monster Car Wash offers a monster-size menu of burgers, burritos, sushi and margaritas to go with car wash options like “extra mud” removal (it is Texas, after all).

Because Bradley anticipates a stop at the Auto Spa Bistro being part of many people’s more glamorous, less muddy, evenings out, he’ll eventually stay open until 11 p.m. on weekends. Last call will be at 10:30 p.m.

That’s just for cars. The people, hopefully, will hang around a lot longer.

“I’ll know this place is a success when everyone keeps coming back,” Bradley said. “Whether their cars are dirty or not.”