After Only Nine Months In Business, Johnston's Bar & Restaurant Calling It Quits In San Diego's University Heights

September 18, 2023

This past January, Johnston's bar & restaurant opened in the building long occupied by Small Bar in San Diego's University Heights, but the neighborhood pub will soon shutter after less than nine months in business.

In 2021, John Pani's ELE Collective 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 was 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.

After two years of development, Johnston's finally opened this past February. The restaurant offers a cocktail-fueled bar menu and American pub dishes 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. 

Johnston's will shutter this week, as ELE is listing the building for sale with local brokerage firm Next Wave Commercial. Pani, along with Reagal Seagull and The Regal Beagle co-owner Matthew Guilbert, recently purchased Longhorn Bar & Grill in San Diego's Grantville, so he will likely turn his attention to the operations of his newly acquired property. 

This isn't the first time ELE Collective has closed one of its San Diego restaurants. 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 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. 

Johnston's last day of business is Saturday, September 23, at 4628 Park Boulevard in San Diego's University Heights neighborhood. For more information, visit