Entering bookshop Maison Assouline London in November 2018, Katie Barringer and Jordan Smelt say they were at a crossroads. Barringer had just closed her Marietta Street shop Cover Books, while Smelt had begun working for Rive Gauche Wine Co. after departing Bread and Butterfly and Cakes and Ale. That night at Maison Assouline in London would ultimately change the course of their lives, with the shop and its pocket bar serving as the inspiration for their new Buckhead bookshop and wine bar, Lucian Books and Wine.
Barringer and Smelt say they had been considering opening a wine bar together or some sort of collaborative project that would revive a version of Barringer’s bookshop. Seated at the Swans Bar at Maison Assouline surrounded by art and lifestyle books, the couple had an a-ha moment.
“We truly looked at each other and just knew this is what we’re doing together,” Barringer says of the idea behind Lucian. “It was immediate, and shifted us in a way that we needed and provided that next step.”
Presenting the idea to business partner Mickey Mixson, the trio got to work forming the backbone for Lucian and scouting spaces where the couple’s love of books and wine would merge. Contemporary British painter Lucian Freud, who resided in London until his death ten years ago, served as inspiration for the name. Barringer describes the artist as an aristocratic bohemian — a man of “extremes, intensity, immense talent, and magnetism.”
For the design, Barringer and Smelt enlisted the services of Atlanta-based Seiber Design, owned by longtime friend Ed Seiber. In Seiber and associate Lindsay Miller, they hoped to strike a balance between chic sophistication and relaxed coolness at Lucian.
“We’re very visual people and came to Ed and Lindsay with pretty specific ideas,” says Barringer. “They steered us in the right direction, while also surprising us with some really beautiful details.”
Smelt admits his favorite design element is the backbar. A bank of large, framed windows flood the gold metal and glass shelving and bar with natural light and views of the busy corner at Peachtree and Pharr. The windows highlight the spirits and stemware, all carefully chosen by Smelt.
Light is something Lucian doesn’t lack, including fixtures like the black metal book lights along the banquette and a modern chandelier in the semi-private dining area.
Barringer didn’t want shelving for the books to be an afterthought or appear decorative. Instead, she tasked Seiber and Miller with creating a shoppable stage to showcase the collection, which includes books on art, music, fashion, and food. The granddaughter of a librarian, she remembers her grandmother referring to books as the best accessory for a room and an easy way to add interest, texture, and color to a space.
The books on the shelves are meant to be touched, flipped through, and purchased.
Like books for Barringer, wine is the focal point for Smelt, who curated a list of nearly 250 wines by the bottle. Rather than group wines by subjective tasting notes, Smelt makes the deep wine list here accessible, grouping wines by varieties like chardonnay, cabernet franc, or sauvignon blanc. It provides people a recognizable and approachable entry point to the wines at Lucian.
“Everyone at the table gets a list. A lot of places still make wine intimidating in the way lists are written. It’s confusing and overwhelming,” Smelt says. “Most people shop by variety, and they already know what they like to drink. Our list categorizes wines by varieties and not tasting notes. As people thumb through the list looking for a chardonnay or cabernet sauvignon, they may find something they’re curious about and ask questions.”
Food was always going to be an important part of the experience at Lucian, the couple say. And they had one person on the list to lead the kitchen: chef Brian Hendrickson. Smelt worked with the chef at Cakes and Ale and Bread and Butterfly before Hendrickson moved to work at restaurant Ninety Acres in New Jersey.
Hendrickson approaches each dish on the menu at Lucian with the same thoughtfulness and care as 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 take between two and three days to make. This includes everything from the duck jus for the roast duck, right down to the sorrel mayonnaise he makes for dipping Lucian’s fries.
“I’m very passionate about sauces,” says Hendrickson. “Sauces are fun to make and, if done right, really complete a dish and help tie it all together. In a way, it’s therapeutic for me to make sauces, even though it’s time consuming.”
Barringer says there’s tremendous depth in every dish Hendrickson makes. Keeping dishes simple, some with only three or four ingredients, means there’s nothing to hide behind, allowing the textures, aromas, and flavors of each dish to shine. The sauce for the ricotta gnudi is simply black truffles, beurre monté (emulsified melted butter), and mushroom stock. Even the charcuterie plate is uncomplicated.
“You go to a lot of places and order a charcuterie plate which comes with a thousand different ingredients on it,” Hendrickson explains. “I want meat and something with acid to help cut some of the fat. Our current plate includes just two meats with artichokes a la grecque [olive oil, lemon juice, herbs]. There’s so much flavor in the artichoke, which I feel helps cut the fat in the prosciutto and speck.”
All dishes, including the fries and Scotch egg, are meant to be paired with wine.
After spending over a year at home communicating with family and friends over Zoom, Barringer and Smelt hope Lucian allows people the space to finally enjoy being together again over food, wine, books, and intimate conversation.
“We all get caught up in our bubbles, even without a pandemic,” says Barringer. “Being in a light-filled space, out in the open again amongst people, amongst beautiful books and wine, and beautiful food, this has always been the purpose behind Lucian — probably more so now than before.”
Open for retail shopping, food, and wine Tuesday - Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Dinner service begins at 4 p.m. Cashless. Parking available at the Modera deck. Lucian validates parking for up to two hours. Accessible via MARTA bus route 110 along Peachtree Road.
3005 Peachtree Road, Atlanta. lucianbooksandwine.com. Table reservations highly encouraged. Bar is first come, first served.
Disclaimer: The latest CDC guidance for vaccinated diners during the COVID-19 outbreak is here; dining out still carries risks for unvaccinated diners and workers. Please be aware of changing local rules, and check individual restaurant websites for any additional restrictions such as mask requirements. Find a local vaccination site here.