When hospitality industry veteran Amir Ansari purchased the historic Sterling House in 2013, he envisioned taking a hands-off approach and finding an experienced operator to open a bar or restaurant in the building, but that didn’t happen.
“I was looking for the right tenant that was passionate and really felt strongly about this and was going to make it their life. I didn’t find that tenant,” Ansari tells CultureMap. “I found a bunch of first-time operators without much experience or backing. I came across bar operators who don’t have the best track record of staying in one place for a long time.”
Instead, he turned to family and friends to bring Sterling House to life, starting with two former Memorial High School classmates: chef Lindsey Lee Hirsch and designer Kimberly Atlas Harrington. Work continues on the space and the menu with an eye on opening by the end of June.
“Lindsey has a good track record. Worked all over New York,” Ansari says, including time as the catering director for the city’s famed Metropolitan Opera. Since then, she's been working as a private chef in Houston.
Hirsch is consulting on a menu that will offer what Ansari describes as a “girl-friendly” spin on bar food, which he defines as dishes that don’t require a knife and fork to eat. Think items like a burger, chicken sandwich, falafel, and vegetarian options.
“One of my big goals is to get some kind of burger award,” Ansari explains.
Ingredients will come via Martin Preferred Foods, which is owned by Ansari’s wife Lisa’s family. Everything will be made fresh — Sterling House doesn’t have a freezer.
Turning to beverages, Sterling House is working with Republic Distributing and the Brown-Foreman spirits company to create a menu of eight to 10 house cocktails. Between 10 and 16 taps will provide craft beer, and an extensive selection of prosecco and rosé will satisfy wine drinkers.
Sterling House plans to set itself apart in non-alcoholic beverages by offering a range of freshly squeezed juices, bottled sodas, and espresso drinks.
“A lot of times you have designated drivers or someone who doesn’t drink, and there’s nothing for them to enjoy that isn’t Coke out of a soda gun,” Ansari notes. “We’ll try to pat that person on the back for being a designated driver or living a healthy lifestyle.”
With Whole Foods set to begin construction nearby, Sterling House’s part of Midtown is poised for substantial growth. Recent additions like Stoked Tequila and Tacos and Midtown BBQ will further help grow the area’s reputation as a dining destination. Whether its patrons decide that Sterling House is a bar with good food or a restaurant with great cocktails remains to be seen, but it will be a useful addition to the neighborhood.