The Guild is born


What was once a community gathering place for service members is now The Guild Hotel, a boutique luxury property opening last month in downtown’s Columbia District, bringing its signature restaurant, Luca, to San Diego’s dining scene.

Steeped in history, The Guild took over the former Army-Navy YMCA building (a National Historic Landmark built in 1924) and is now part of Marriott’s Tribute Portfolio. The hotel’s thoughtful contemporary design leans Italian-Renaissance, and weaves in references to its military past. Guest rooms are custom designed, and DJ-curated playlists with eclectic world beats are streamed throughout the property.

Tucked into a protected courtyard off the lobby, all-day restaurant Luca offers al fresco dining with Mediterranean and North African flavors from Executive Chef Justin Vaiciunas. Its chic black-and-white color palette is reminiscent of the French Riviera, including striped umbrellas and rose gold flatware and décor.

“The menu incorporates all the countries that evolve around the Mediterranean Sea and their specific flavors and balance in taste — that makes this place really special,” said Vaiciunas, who was in Miami before relocating to San Diego this year.

“I feel like we’re a hidden gem and truly something that’s unique, versus restaurants you would find nearby in Little Italy or the Gaslamp area,” Vaiciunas said. “We’re kind of that in-between where we’re casual but refined, but also a night out on the town.”

He brought a few of his old recipes, but Vaiciunas developed most of the menu exclusively for Luca.

One menu standout is the Cured & Toasty, a grilled sourdough toast with prosciutto, creamy lemon mascarpone, fennel, Romano and truffle oil. The Beautiful Scallops are another hearty dish, served with rich brown butter risotto and chive aioli. Tunisian spices make for a smoky tomato sauce in the extremely tender Mama Makes the Best meatballs.

The Midnight Lure salad offers a lighter alternative with unconventional components. Field greens are tossed with chocolate powder and basil-Dijon dressing, served with Kataifi (a crunchy phyllo dough) that’s plated to resemble a bird’s nest cradling a soft-boiled egg.

The main entrees come in larger portions, including a wagyu burger, whole market fish and pork tenderloin.

Luca serves wine, beer and craft cocktails such as The Garden, a refreshing gin drink with herbaceous flavors of mint, lime, cherry and elderflower.

In the future, Vaiciunas plans to launch a chef’s tasting menu of five to 10 courses, available on weekends in their outdoor garden area.

The Guild Hotel, 500 W. Broadway, downtown, 619.795.6000,


$80M luxury hotel opens — in former downtown San Diego YMCA