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Marisa Starling of the Strip House

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This is The Gatekeepers, in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite impossible-to-get tables.

Since 2004, downtown steakhouse the Strip House has found success with its combination of good food, strong cocktails and burlesque decor. Although the restaurant is part of a chain, one of four locations operated around the country by the Glazier Group, diners have embraced it, particularly for power lunches and expense account dinners. General Manager Marisa Starling keeps everyone happy with her calm demeanor and outgoing personality. Starling spoke to Eater about catering to VIPs, serving athletes and the one request she couldn't honor.

How big is the restaurant? Our capacity is about 426. We have three party rooms. On the floor, about 124. Do you have a favorite part of the restaurant? I do, actually. Table 68 is my favorite. You can see everything from that table. It's a corner booth. I won't sit anywhere else.

How long have you been here? I've been here two and a half years. And where were you before? I moved from Florida. I worked for a resort called the Don Cesar and I ran the restaurant: right on the beach. It was beautiful watching the ocean every day.

8:00 p,m. Saturday night, what's the wait look like? You're in luck on Saturdays. Being in the downtown district, during the week is our busiest time: Monday through Thursday. Those you might have a 20 minute wait. On Saturday, 8:00 p.m. Is a good time to come in. We have plenty of room. When you're on a wait is there anything I can say to shorten it? I usually take people to the lounge and get them cocktails. We also do complimentary passed hors d'oeuvres, which helps. Does anyone ever offer you money or gifts to jump the line? No one's ever offered me money, but if they had a house in the Hamptons I might take them up on that.

Who are your favorite customers? My lunch crowd customers are some of my favorites. They're our regulars. I have one gentleman who comes in five times a week. We're going to make a plaque for his table. He sits at the same place every day. He doesn't even make a reservation. We hold a table for him, and he just walks straight in. How long has he been coming here? Five years or so. He's an attorney who works across the street. Then we get a lot of athletes. They're always fun. We had Justin Timberlake, Alex Rodriquez. Usually the basketball teams stay at the Four Seasons, so they always come here for dinner.

Any local celebrities? A lot of the athletes live here at One Park Place. (Astros pitcher) Bud Norris comes in. A lot of the basketball players from the Rockets do as well. Do you know the gentleman with the long hair? Luis Scola? He comes in here all the time. This is one of his favorite spots to come to. He usually orders the rack of lamb that we have. Every time.

It's a full lunch crowd. How do you accommodate a VIP who walks in? I'll pull another table onto the floor. There's never been one time a VIP walked in that I couldn't seat him. Even the Four Seasons VIPs, even if we're full, I'll take the reservation and find a way to get them in. We definitely take care of our VIPs.

What is the most outragous request you've had to accommodate? Outrageous to me is we had a gentleman order a raw steak: no salt, no pepper, not even any flames to it. Just on a plate. That's the way he wanted it. We honored it. That you couldn't accommodate? We have had people ask for strippers in closed rooms. Obviously, we can't accommodate that. I usually try to accommodate any request I can, but that's the craziest question I've ever been asked.

What Gatekeeper tool is most necessary for you to do your job? Patience, perserverence, a pretty smile and my iPhone.

· Strip House Houston [official site]
· All Gatekeepers on Eater Houston [-EHOU-]
Marisa Starling at Table 68

Strip House

1200 McKinney Street, Houston, TX 77010

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