By Frank Sabatini Jr.
Gone are the gym memberships, the basement swimming pool and game tables that attracted members of the military and locals since 1924. Now, the historic structure at 500 W. Broadway—long known as the Armed Services YMCA—is in the creative hands of Sage Hospitality Group, a Denver-based company that took over operations last year from Azul Hospitality in San Diego.
Under Azul, the eight-level landmark building morphed into The Guild, a stylish boutique hotel featuring a spacious lobby bar and courtyard restaurant. Soon after, it fetched a top-ten ranking by USA Today as one of the best new hotels in the country.
Sage stepped in several months into the pandemic, when The Guild had fallen into a deep slump because of lock downs and decreased travel. The bar and lounge had completely shut down.
“There was no food or beverage. It was a dead bar that we resurrected from the ground,” said director of operations, Miguel Lopez. “Now it’s a full-blown operation seven nights a week.”
Just recently, The Guild reintroduced itself to the public as a destination for food and drinks, both of which can be enjoyed either at the sizable bar or in two inviting outdoor lounge areas.
At a recent kickoff party, the spotlight was on The Guild’s new specialty cocktails. Each of the eight new drinks ties into a titillating anecdote about San Diego during the 1920s and early ‘30s.
Who knew there was a Downtown speakeasy called The Dew Drop Inn that lost everything in a fire except for an icebox containing Prohibition bourbon? Hence the bourbon-based Dew Drop cocktail augmented for today’s connoisseurs with lime, ginger, pomegranate and allspice. Located within the red-light Stingaree District (now part of the Gaslamp Quarter), firefighters reportedly discovered the liquor resting on a block of ice after cracking open the unharmed box.
The Million Dollar “Bill” is a flashy cocktail that pays homage to Congressman William Kettner from San Diego. He was known to President Roosevelt at the time as “The Million Dollar Congressman” for securing land agreements with “every San Diego naval base,” according to Lopez’s research. In addition, San Diego’s first fire boat was named after Kettner.
“The boat put out fires on the water,” Lopez explained while pointing out that the drink is finished with a smoky essence the bartender achieves by burning a faux million-dollar bill over the top. That element adds verve to a combination of rum, kiwi syrup, lemon and falernum.
A play on the Old Fashion is named Rodgers & Stevenson. It is named after the building’s original architects, Lincoln Rodgers and Frank Stevenson. The drink comprises Ritterhouse Rye Whiskey, Cynar liqueur and malted syrup made in-house.
The recipes are a collaboration between lead bartender Robert Chacon (formerly of Pendry San Diego) and bar consultant Lee Zaremba, a beverage expert who will soon open an upscale cocktail bar in Los Angeles. Each specialty drink includes a brief description of its historical portrayal.
Wine and local draft beers are also available, along with a food menu that includes house-made jerky, duck fat fries, burgers, fried chicken sandwiches, desserts and more.
Over the years, the west end of the building was home to a few different kitchens, including Grand Central Cafe. More recently, the current courtyard lounge gave way to the former Mediterranean-inspired Luca restaurant.
The Guild’s general manager, Onal Kucuk, noted that the building has changed hands “many times” over the decades, and both the hotel and bar have operated in fits and starts since the pandemic.
“The building initially opened as The Guild in 2019 under the different management company. It operated for eight months, closed for three months, and then we opened it back up in August of last year right during the pandemic. We’re just now re-entering the San Diego market as a luxury-lifestyle hotel. It’s The Guild 2.0—basically our second reopening.”
The bar and kitchen are open from 4 to 10 p.m. daily. For more information, call 619-795-6000 or visit www.theguildhotel.com.
— Frank Sabatini Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.