How a Former Actor Built His Hollywood Hospitality Empire

Courtesy of Laure Joliet; Ren Fuller
Firehouse doors open to a lounge, coffee bar and gift shop; A Seagrave Sour cocktail at the hotel's bar.

Dustin Lancaster recently opened a 10th enterprise, the hip Firehouse Hotel in L.A.'s Arts  District that counts Chris Pine and CAA's Jeremy  Plager as investors: It's a place for "people who want something other than Chateau  Marmont."

Built in 1927, downtown L.A.'s Engine Company No. 17 closed in 1980 and became a film location. When Dustin Lancaster, owner of Hotel Covell, was invited to look at the building on the corner of Santa Fe Avenue and 7th Street in 2016, the block was fairly desolate, with only Bestia, a high-end eatery and downtown pioneer, nearby. Now Warner Music Group's West Coast headquarters sits across the street, and Soho House will debut a third L.A. location a block away. Suddenly Lancaster's Firehouse Hotel (weekday rates start at $300), one of the first to open in L.A.'s Arts District, lives at the city's hot epicenter. "I always want to stay in places that immerse me in a neighborhood," says Lancaster, 39, who also owns L.A. wine bars Covell, Augustine and Oriel; Silver Lake's L&E Oyster Bar; Sunset Junction's El Condor; and Highland Park's Hi-Hat and Hermosillo — all founded in up-and-coming areas. "We created each room like an apartment, not a hotel room," he adds. "We want to bridge the gap between hotels and Airbnbs."

Industry connections helped fill the seats. Before founding hospitality group An Eastside Establishment, Lancaster bartended while acting in commercials and appearing on shows like Reno 9-1-1. At Silver Lake's Cafe Stella, he fell in with a group of regulars, also actors, many of whom went on to huge careers — Chris Pine, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Zachary Quinto — as Lancaster built his L.A. empire. Those bonds are still strong: Industry fans of his hotspots have invested in his projects, among them Pine and Quinto, who backed Firehouse (as did CAA's Jeremy Plager), and Ferguson, who owns a stake in Hotel Covell. "It's great that people I knew from before feel comfortable at our places," says Lancaster, who is married to jewelry designer Maya Brenner. "That's our goal [for] everyone."

For Firehouse's design, Lancaster worked with ETC.etera's Sally Breer, whose vintage and contemporary style has outfitted director Justin Lin's home as well as Hotel Covell and Oriel. "The goal was to let a building this special speak for itself," says Lancaster. "The exposed brick and windows are original, but with [new] soundproofing, pressed-tin ceilings and 15-foot ceilings in rooms." Massive firehouse-red doors open to a curated gift shop carrying jewelry, ceramics and decor. A firemen's old handball court with a glass ceiling acts as a private event space, alongside a hidden courtyard lined with banquettes and a firepit.

Former Nomad chef Ashley Abodeely creates elevated burgers and pasta dishes for the dining room. The second floor holds eight spacious suites with light fixtures, furniture and art by locals Simon St. James Studio, Atelier de Troupe, Jason Koharik and Brendan Ravenhill Studio. The White room evokes Hollywood glamour; Green has a chic vintage-hunting-lodge vibe. Smeg refrigerators and extra sinks allow for longer stays. "Some of our best guests have been directors and other industry people" from NYC, says Lancaster. "[For] people who need a temporary home, something other than Chateau Marmont."

This story first appeared in the June 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.