Upon entering the Maison Assouline London bookstore in November 2018, Katie Barringer and Jordan Smelt say they were at a crossroads. Barringer had just closed her Cover Books store on Marietta Street while Smelt had started working for Rive Gauche Wine Co. after leaving Bread and Butterfly and Cakes and Ale. That night at Maison Assouline in London would ultimately change her life as the shop and its pocket bar inspired her new Buckhead bookstore and wine bar, Lucian Books and Wine.
Barringer and Smelt say they considered opening a wine bar together, or some kind of collaborative venture that would revive a version of Barringer’s bookstore. In the Swans Bar at Maison Assouline, surrounded by art and lifestyle books, the couple had an aha moment.
“We really looked at each other and just knew we’d do it together,” says Barringer of the idea behind Lucian. “It was instant and changed us in ways we needed and enabled the next step.”
The trio presented the idea to business partner Mickey Mixson and went to work building the backbone for Lucian and exploring spaces where the couple’s love for books and wine would merge. The inspiration for the name was taken from the contemporary British painter Lucian Freud, who lived in London until his death ten years ago. Barringer describes the artist as an aristocratic bohemian – a man of “extremes, intensity, immense talent and magnetism”.
For the design, Barringer and Smelt used the services of Seiber Design from Atlanta, which belongs to long-time friend Ed Seiber. With Seiber and associate Lindsay Miller, they hoped to find a balance between chic sophistication and relaxed coolness at Lucian.
“We’re very visual people and we came to Ed and Lindsay with pretty specific ideas,” says Barringer. “They steered us in the right direction and at the same time surprised us with some really nice details.”
Smelt admits that his favorite design element is the backbar. A series of large, framed windows flood the shelves and the gold-toned metal and glass bar with natural light and views of the busy corner of Peachtree and Pharr. The windows highlight the spirits and glasses, all carefully selected by Smelt.
Light is something Lucian doesn’t lack, including fixtures like the black metal book lights along the bench and a modern chandelier in the semi-private dining area.
Barringer didn’t want shelves for the books to be sunken or decorative afterwards. Instead, she commissioned Seiber and Miller to create a shopping stage to showcase the collection, which includes books on art, music, fashion, and food. As the granddaughter of a librarian, she remembers her grandmother calling books the best accessory for a room and an easy way to add interest, texture and color to a room.
The books on the shelves should be touched, leafed through and bought.
Like books for barringers, wine is at the heart of Smelt, who has compiled a list of nearly 250 bottled wines. Instead of grouping wines according to subjective tasting notes, Smelt makes the deep wine list accessible here and groups wines according to varieties such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc or Sauvignon Blanc. It provides people with a recognizable and accessible entry point into Lucian’s wines.
“Everyone at the table gets a list. Many places still make wine intimidating in the way lists are written. It’s confusing and overwhelming, ”says Smelt. “Most people buy by type and already know what they like to drink. Our list categorizes wines by variety rather than tasting notes. When people leafing through the list looking for a Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon, they may find something they are curious about and ask questions. ”
Dining has always been an important part of the Lucian experience, the couple say. And they had one person on the list to run the kitchen: Chef Brian Hendrickson. Smelt worked with the chef at Cakes and Ale and Bread and Butterfly before Hendrickson moved to Ninety Acres in New Jersey.
Hendrickson approaches every item on Lucian’s menu with the same thoughtfulness and care that Barringer does with her books and Smelt with his wine. Nothing is an afterthought, including the sauces which Hendrickson says aren’t rushed and can last anywhere from two to three days. This includes everything from the duck jus for the roast duck to the sorrel mayonnaise that he makes for dipping Lucian’s fries.
“I’m really passionate about sauces,” says Hendrickson. “Sauces are fun and, when done right, complete a dish and help put it all together. In a way, it’s therapeutic for me to make sauces, even if it’s time-consuming. ”
Barringer says that every dish Hendrickson prepares has tremendous depth. Keeping dishes simple, some with as little as three or four ingredients, means there’s no hiding behind it, and makes the textures, flavors and tastes of any dish shine. The sauce for the ricotta gnudi consists simply of black truffles, beurre monté (emulsified melted butter) and mushroom broth. The charcuterie plate is also uncomplicated.
“You go to a lot of places and order a charcuterie plate with a thousand different ingredients,” explains Hendrickson. “I want meat and something with acid to cut some fat. Our current plate only contains two types of meat with artichokes a la grecque [olive oil, lemon juice, herbs]. The artichoke has so much flavor, which I think helps reduce the fat in the ham and bacon. “
All dishes, including french fries and scotch egg, should be paired with wine.
After Barringer and Smelt spent over a year at home communicating with family and friends via Zoom, Barringer and Smelt hope that Lucian will provide space for people to finally enjoy being together again over food, wine, books and intimate conversations .
“We all get trapped in our bladders, even without a pandemic,” says Barringer. “To be in a light-flooded room, to be outdoors again among people, between nice books and wine and nice food, that has always been the purpose of Lucian – probably more than before.”
Open to retail, food, and wine Tuesday-Saturday, 11:30 am to 10:00 pm; The dinner service starts at 4:00 p.m. Cashless. Parking spaces are available on the Modera deck. Lucian validates parking for up to two hours. Accessible from the MARTA 110 bus along Peachtree Road.
3005 Peachtree Street, Atlanta. lucianbooksandwine.com. Table reservations are expressly desired. Bar is first come, first served.
Disclaimer: The latest CDC guidelines for guests vaccinated during the COVID-19 outbreak are here; Eating out in the restaurant still poses risks for unvaccinated diners and workers. Please be aware of changing local rules and check individual restaurant websites for additional restrictions such as mask requirements. Find a local vaccination center here.