After Delay, Johnston's Bar Nearly Ready To Unveil In San Diego's University Heights

December 14, 2022

The team behind now-defunct Waypoint Public and Park & Rec in San Diego's University Heights has performed a $3.5 million renovation on the building last occupied for more than a decade by Small Bar and will open a new bar and restaurant concept called Johnston's in January 2023.

John Pani opened craft beer-focused Waypoint Public in 2013 within the 5,000 square-foot North Park corner unit that long housed controversial The Linkery. Pani also owns Park & Rec in University Heights and previously operated Hotel Vyvant in Little Italy (now called Found Hotel). Pani opened a second Waypoint Public location within Del Sur Town Center in San Diego's 4S Ranch area, which operated for about a year before it shuttered in spring 2018. The North Park Waypoint Public closed in 2020, and the space is now a branch of Swami's Cafe.

Last year, Pani bought the building that housed Small Bar for more than 11 years before the establishment shuttered in fall 2020 during the pandemic. Located only two doors down from Pani's Park & Rec concept, the 3,500 square-foot, indoor/outdoor space has been redesigned to open the frontage up to the street with the addition of a large, al-fresco patio on the back of the building.

Originally planned to be called The Regular, the name has been changed to Johnston's as a nod to the history of the building. During renovation of the building's facade, an old hand-painted sign for Johnston’s Variety Store was revealed under the former Small Bar signage. It turned out that there was once a family-owned department store at the space from 1926 until the store owner's passing in 1940.

Johnston's is anticipated to unveil as early as next month. Expect the new concept to offer an American pub-style menu from consulting chef Peter Ziegler, who previously worked at Charles + Dinorah at the Pearl Hotel in Point Loma and Wolfie's Carousel in Little Italy. Expect items like burgers, sandiwiches, and more, as well as yakitori skewers grilled over an authentic Binchōtan Japanese charcoal grill. There will also be a full bar with craft cocktails, beer, and wine. The restaurant will have indoor seating for approximately 70 and outdoor space for 75 additional customers. 

"The underlying vision for the restaurant remains the same, which is creating a space that is approachable, geared to being that friendly, neighborhood spot," explained Pani in another interview. "But we originally had a different name and look and feel. It was going to be called The Regular, you know, Norm and a Cheers kind of place. Then we uncovered this sign from the 1920s when we were demoing the stucco and it was in very good condition. It was a piece of history. We dug into it a little bit and changed the the name and the feel a little bit to give a nod to a different period. But it was always our intent to embrace the community and its history."

Johnston's is expected to open in January 2023 at 4628 Park Boulevard in San Diego's University Heights neighborhood. For more information, follow Johnston's Bar on Instagram