First Look: Lucian Books and Wine Opens in Buckhead

Part wine bar, part bookshop, part restaurant.

Lucian Books and Wine bar
Courtesy of Lucian Books and Wine

What exactly is Lucian Books and Wine? According to co-owner Katie Barringer, it’s a choose-your-own-adventure destination. Part wine bar, part bookshop, the 40-seat eatery opened its doors in late June in Buckhead. What it really is, though, is an extension of its owners, Barringer and Jordan Smelt. “This is us. This is a complete physical representation of what Jordan and I love most,” says Barringer. 

The idea for Lucian, which gets its name from British painter Lucian Freud, was crystallized on a trip to London in 2018. Smelt was working for a wine distribution company after serving as the wine and beverage director for the lauded Cakes & Ale and Barringer was working in an art gallery and thinking of reviving her beloved Cover Books shop. “And that moment in London when we realized that we could put the two together was the moment,” says Smelt. 

Lucian Books and Wine interior
Owners Katie & Jordan | Courtesy of Lucian Books and Wine

Barringer and Smelt knew they wanted to open their restaurant in Buckhead and were delighted when they found the location on the corner of Peachtree and Pharr Roads. There, they were able to design the space from scratch working virtually with Seiber Design. “We would print out floor plans, cut them out, cut out pieces, cut out banquettes, cut out tables, and then piece together a floor plan and send it back to the architects to see if what we had pieced together could actually work. It was really wild,” says Smelt. 

The end result is a sophisticated space, half of which is lined with books that specialize in wine, food, and interior design, while the other half has 40 seats for diners, including a seven-seat bar. Although it’s a smaller space, it feels grand thanks to lofty ceilings and large windows that overlook the prominent intersection. There are lovely aesthetic touches, too, like artwork by Brett Smith who created block drawings that are reminiscent of book spines and cutouts by Newnan-based artist Jordan Wright Patterson. “We've always wanted to do a small space. We think Atlanta is really good at doing big restaurants, but there aren't a lot of good, smaller restaurants. And we had always seen it as something that, as Katie said, would be intimate,” says Smelt. 

Lucian Books and Wine menu
Venue menue | Courtesy of Lucian Books and Wine

When it comes to the food, you can expect a tight menu created by chef Brian Hendrickson. Hendrickson also worked at Cakes & Ale, but Smelt and Barringer had to convince him to move back to Atlanta after he moved to New Jersey for a spell. “I think cuisine-wise, his influences definitely lean Italian and French Mediterranean going back to that choose your own adventure,” explains Barringer. “People can come in for just a bite, sharing plates with friends, or a traditional dinner, the types of food and size of food range so we’re giving people options depending on what experiences they’re hoping to have.”

In the short amount of time they’ve been open, there are already some standouts. The hamachi, for example, is a beautiful dish of thin layers of cucumber topped with slices of hamachi and black radishes. It’s served with a table-side pour of buttermilk dressing. There's also ricotta gnudi with pecorino and maitake mushrooms (sometimes oyster). “He makes the most beautiful omelet you’ve ever seen. Classic rolled, soft, French omelet that’s topped with a bit of caviar and a quenelle of creme fraiche,” says Smelt. 

Lucian Books and Wine
Courtesy of Lucian Books and Wine

After a year of scanning QR codes, Smelt is excited to present his wine list as an actual book. “We wanted something tactile that you could actually hold in your hands and would show a little wear and tear over the course of a few months,” said Smelt. As for the list itself, Smelt says it’s his most ambitious program yet. While the offerings are predominantly from France and Europe there are also wines from Patagonia, South Africa, and Australia. The wines by the glass change every two months. “If you flip to a page, you'll see four wines, potentially, from the same producer. And that's very intentional. Katie and I love wine from certain producers and we want to showcase them and showcase their work, and not just limit them to one placement,” says Smelt.

Lucian with its books and convivial setting stands in stark contrast to the world of the pandemic that was heavily dominated by Zoom and contact-less delivery. The books add an aesthetic warmth to the space, yes, but also give people a chance to make discoveries. “I’m just going to say it, the books make the space,” laughs Barringer. “It’s been wonderful to see,  just in person, how many people get up from their table and are curious about something and ask about it and touch it and hold it in their hands.”

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Lia Picard is an Atlanta-based journalist writing about food, travel, and a variety of other topics. Her work appears in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Wine Enthusiast, and CNN Travel.