By James Cullum (Courtesy photo)
Local restaurateur Sang Lee is a focused, obsessive and above all else competitive man. And nowhere is that clearer than his Old Town eatery, Mackie’s Bar and Grill, where he specializes in hearty steaks and no frills under any circumstances.
“I am so sick of all these new restaurants and their pretensions,” Lee said. “Fusion this and that with chef such-and-such who makes tiny bits of food. You’re never full. I don’t want that.
“Mackie’s is a genuine steakhouse. We buy high quality ingredients to start off with, we deliver every time, we are friendly and make our customers comfortable.”
Mackie’s, named after Lee’s wife, Dr. Suzanne Mackie-Lee, opened in October 2014 at 907 King St., replacing Layla’s Leba- nese Restaurant. The couple worked around the clock to completely renovate and reopen the space within a period of six weeks.
“So many things fell into place to make this happen, it was like serendipity,” said Mackie-Lee, a full-time pediatrician at Prince William Hospital in Manassas. “You definitely want to try the hamburger. It’s a damn good hamburger and it has my name on it.”
If you’ve ever hung out at Misha’s Coffeehouse and Roaster in Old Town, you’ve likely seen Lee, rail thin and happily combative in his conversations at the coffee, dinner and poker tables. Talking with him is like participating in a verbal chess match that keeps you on your toes.
Lee was born in South Korea and has lived in Alexandria since 1980. His professional career is as varied as his menu, managing his parents’ dry cleaning business, attending medical school — where he met his wife — and graduating from George Mason University Law School and practicing law in the city.
The kitchen stays open from 11 a.m. until last call every night. Lee said that means nobody ever calls it an early night.
“My staff have bills to pay, and you have to treat people with respect,” he said. “They can clean, even if they just sit there and wait for an order to come in just in case. I pay for them to be there. I don’t send anyone home when it’s slow.”
The inspiration for Mackie’s began nearly 20 years ago. Lee and his wife, self-professed connoisseurs of fine food and drinks, hosted elaborate Christmas parties at their home near Mount Vernon that eventually ballooned to 150 guests.
Lee got the cooking bug, became obsessed with the art and even conducted informal “Iron Chef”-style cooking competitions with his friends.
Ray Shank, one of Lee’s best friends, was one of 40 investors who ponied up funds to help open the restaurant.
“In poker, you’re not quite sure if Sang is B.S.-ing you, or if he’s walking around in your brain and rearranging things as he sees fit,” Shank said. “He’s dangerous. Your ego wants to doubt him, but your brain tells you otherwise.”
Mackie’s Bar and Grill, located at 907 King St., is open from 11 a.m. until at least midnight, seven days a week.