Johnston's Bar Finally Unveils In San Diego's University Heights

January 28, 2023

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 unveiled a new bar and restaurant concept called Johnston's.

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.

In 2021, 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 was changed to Johnston's as a nod to the history of the building. During renovation of the 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 finally “soft” opened this week after two years in development. Expected to grand open on February 8, the new concept offers an American pub-style menu from executive chef Peter Ziegler, who previously worked at Lionfish at Pendry Hotel, Charles + Dinorah at the Pearl Hotel in Point Loma and Wolfie's Carousel in Little Italy. Dishes include burgers, sandiwiches, and more, as well as yakitori skewers grilled over an authentic Binchōtan Japanese charcoal grill. There is also a full bar with craft cocktails, beer, and wine. The restaurant offers indoor seating for approximately 70 and outdoor space for 75 additional customers.

Johnston's will be hosting random soft opening hours at 4628 Park Boulevard in San Diego's University Heights neighborhood. For more information, follow Johnston's Bar on Instagram.