Small Bar As We Know It Is No More | University Heights' Dive Closes For Complete Overhaul In "Partnership" With Trust Restaurant Group

February 18, 2019

Small Bar in San Diego's University Heights closed for business as of last week and is undergoing a complete overhaul, allegedly part of a partnership with Trust Restaurant Group, the local hospitality team behind such hotspots as Trust, Hundred Proof, and the recently unveiled Fort Oak.

Founded by Hamilton's owner Scot Blair with then-wife Karen Barnett in September 2009, Small Bar has been a staple in University Heights, known for its extensive craft beer program and neighborhood-focused vibe. With the stated partnership and renovation, the former-dive is hoping to adapt to the upward evolving landscape of Park Boulevard in San Diego's University Heights.

The culinary crew made up of Chef/Co-Owner Brad Wise, GM/Co-Owner Steve Schwob, Pastry Chef Jeremy Harville and Director of Beverage Juan Sanchez are all Eat.Drink.Sleep (JRDN, Belmont Park, Cannonball, Draft) alums that branched off in early 2016 for the opening of Trust Restaurant within design guru Jonathan Segal's neighborhood-redefining "Mr. Robinson" building on the corner of Park and Robinson in Hillcrest. Trust immediately received rave reviews and became one of San Diego's most popular dining destinations, resulting in the team expanding in 2017 with the opening of Hundred Proof - a more casual bar & restaurant located four blocks North of Trust. Last month, the team unveiled the 3,400+ square foot Fort Oak within developer Jonathan Segal's The Fort mixed-use building in Mission Hills.

Regular patrons of Small Bar will certainly notice a lot of changes after this overhaul. Trust Restaurant Group Partner and Executive Chef Brad Wise will collaborate with Small Bar owner Karen Barnett to create a new menu, hoping to up the local watering holes food game. Small Bar also poached Frank McGrath from Consortium Holdings' Polite Provisions to take over as general manager and to redesign the bar program to offer a menu of craft cocktails and punch bowls. Small Bar is also undergoing a full interior and exterior renovation for an anticipated reopening on February 28.

"The simple fact is, I was on the verge of closing Small Bar," said Karen Barnett in a statement posted on Reddit San Diego. "My debts are high and the revenue just wasn’t stretching far enough to keep things afloat, let alone cover the cost to repair my leaky roof, holes in my restaurant floor, or equipment breaking down. I met with many people who wanted to buy my business, partner with me, or invest. I weighed all my options very carefully for many months and ultimately made a decision to bring the Trust Restaurant Group on board to help get Small Bar back on track and survive."

Questions remain why the Trust Restaurant Group would invest in a struggling Small Bar and allow the owner to maintain any degree of management control if assertions are true that the concept was heading toward impending closure. We surmise that the Trust Group will take complete ownership of the concept by year's end and likely change the name altogether.

Small Bar is located at 4628 Park Boulevard in San Diego's University Heights. For more information, visit and check out the artistic renderings below to see what to expect.

This post was updated on March 21, 2019