It's Friday night at Bar Sue, and picklebacks are the going concern: That's a shot of Old Crow chased with a shot of pickle juice. If anything can make your mouth forget a bottom-shelf shot of whiskey, straight pickle juice is it. (Which is not to say you're necessarily going to like it: If you drink a pickleback without knowing what it is, because everyone at the bar is drinking them, you get what you deserve, like me.) It's crowded and dark at Capitol Hill's second "Southern bar." (Witness, on Broadway, opened first by a nose last month; see "Southern Hospitality" at thestranger.com.) The bartender, trussed into an old-fashioned apron with leather straps, seems a little stressed. A guy who shares the fact that he's the grandson of the former mayor of Shiner, Texas, doesn't get much in response—down South, he says, his noble heritage always gets him a free beer.
Bar Sue—named after Sue Kerr Hicks, Esq., a man on the wrong side of the Scopes trial and supposedly the inspiration for the song "A Boy Named Sue"—is where the ill-fated Lucky 8's used to be, around the corner from Chop Suey. The space functions admirably as a neo-shitkicker-roadhouse; the room is below ground level, so you sort of fall into it, and there's rough-hewn wood, a wall of antlers, and a questionable painting of a caballero on black velvet. In the big corner booth, you can ring a bell for VIP service: a bucket of Dixie beers, five for $12. On the bar: big jars of pickles, pickled eggs, and pigs' feet, which people do actually order from time to time.
The Bar Named Sue felt like a bro-down on a Friday night, but then a lot of the neighborhood's bars turn warrior on the weekends (including Thursday). A Sunday evening was calmer, and that same bartender was funny and smart, sharing his recipe for the homemade vermouth he was making and discussing the etymology of the word. He's barrel-aging liquor, too, and the cocktail menu includes infusions, house-made tonic water, and oversize ice cubes. A Daughters of the Revolution—Dickel rye, Dry Sack sherry, Scrappy's bitters, and Clément sugar-cane syrup, $10—tasted as proud, pushy, and crazy underneath as the only member of the DAR I have the dubious honor of knowing.
Bar Sue's food is good: They make those pickles in-house, and the chicken sandwich ($11) piled with them is already a hit. Even better: a fat piece of spicy blackened catfish, the flesh still soft, on a brioche bun with dill aioli slaw ($11). A marinated black-eyed-pea salad with radishes ($8), called "ButterTEXAS CAVIAR" on the menu, tasted like a church picnic in a really good way. The large-gauge hush puppies ($5) mean a reduction in the crispy-exterior-to-interior ratio, and the fried okra ($5) is of the heavy-on-the-cornmeal-crust style—not the way I like them, but better than a pickleback by a long shot.
The London Plane is light, airy, and simply but beautifully designed, a place for an architect to have the ideal glass of afternoon wine. Huge windows showcase the place's namesake trees, all along Pioneer Square's cobblestone Occidental Park; a London plane is a kind of sycamore, and they're waving their branches gently in the October sun, leaves just starting to change. At the bar on this Sunday: a man with appropriately geometrical glasses looking through the Nordic Bakery Cookbook with his companion, both wearing appropriately geometrical dark clothes. They've gathered the cookbook, a tiny matte-black vase, and two bottles of wine from the shelves along one wall, from which they could also acquire the world's best pruning shears, red linen baskets from Japan, spoons made of exquisite variegated wood, sea salt harvested in Oregon, those spiky things for submersion in flower arrangements, and more. A handwritten sign advises of the availability of native plants from Oxbow Farm. Among the books, one facing forward commands ENJOY THE EXPERIENCE.
It smells lovely in the London Plane, faintly herbal, a little like fresh-cut wood. Sprays of grain supplant flower arrangements along the bar. The room's huge old beams are painted white; long tables provide two dozen seats. The place is a collaboration between Katherine Anderson, of adorable shop (and organic farm) Marigold and Mint, and Matt Dillon, of the much-lauded Sitka & Spruce, the Corson Building, and Bar Sajor just across the way. The food here at lunchtime is Sajor-style local/seasonal/exceptionally tasty salads and spreads—right now including emmer, treviso, chanterelles, and hazelnuts; charred eggplant mashed with smoked chili; olive-oil-braised carrots, fennel, and leeks with aioli ($6 to $11). It's almost but not quite vegetarian, with a meat slicer for "paper-thin ham" ($11) and assorted salami ($12), plus other snacks served until close at 9 p.m.
You should not go anywhere near the London Plane without getting some of its excellent sourdough bread. It's baked daily at the Corson without fear of blackening some of the crust, giving the outside a superlative chewy heft and leaving the inside bubbly, light, and as sweet as it is sour. It's $3.50 a serving with olive oil, or $7 for a hefty two-pound loaf—I know, seven dollars for a loaf of bread, but it is so very good. Later this year, the second installment of the London Plane will open a few steps down Occidental Park, with a bigger bakery and, presumably, even more gastronomic and aesthetic pleasure.