The long awaited debut of Johnston’s Bar is quickly approaching, set to debut in the new year in University Heights. The restaurant and bar replaces Small Bar in the 3,500-square-foot space on Park Boulevard with indoor and outdoor seating.
Johnston’s Bar is introduced by John Pani of ELE Collective, known for now-closed Waypoint Public and Park & Rec which sits a few doors down from the new restaurant. Pani acquired the property in 2021 and during demolition of the space to make way for the new concept, a long-forgotten sign revealed itself under the building’s streetside facade.
The building had previously housed “Johnston’s Variety Dept. Store,” a 1920s era five-and-dime store owned by Alex and Mary Johnston. Honoring the history of the neighborhood, Pani pivoted his original plans for the space and renamed the business Johnston’s Bar. San Diego artist Christopher Konecki restored the storefront sign and has produced a number of murals at the bar.
“University Heights is one of San Diego’s oldest communities. It would have been unconscionable to just have let that history disappear. This store has an important story to tell, and now, it’ll continue to live on in the heart of uptown for all to enjoy,” says Pani in a press release. “The sign gives people a glimpse of what the century-old family-ran establishment looked like in the 1920s. It’s our ode to the Johnstons’ contributions to the University Heights community, and as a small business ourselves, we hope to continue the tradition and make a lasting impact.”
Pani will reintroduce Johnston’s into the modern age, partnering with architect and interior designer Marianne Berg of Mbee Studio. Inspired by University Heights’ former Mission Cliff Gardens, Johnston’s Bar uses greens and neutral tones in the 1,500 square-foot interior. The indoor dining room and bar gives way to a 2,000-square-foot garden for patio dining and special events.
The menu is designed by Executive Chef Peter Ziegler, formerly of the Pearl Hotel’s Charles + Dinorah and Wolfie’s Carousel Bar. Guests can look forward to globally-inspired dishes like yakitori skewers cooked over a binchotan Japanese charcoal grill, salt & pepper chicken thighs, black garlic ribeye, and homey dishes like the buttermilk fried chicken sandwich with cold-smoked hot honey.
At the bar, expect an extensive cocktail menu with happy hour offerings and boozy brunch specialties like a Bloody Mary – yet another nod to the building’s history and its previous inhabitant, Small Bar.
Johnston’s Bar is due to open in Early 2023, offering dinner service daily and weekend brunch. Stay tuned for a grand opening announcement by following Johnston’s Bar on Instagram.