A pub that sparked an entertainment empire is no more – but its new owners say they are returning its original name when it reopens next month.
For the last 11 years, Little Johnny Russells on Albert Road was run by business partners Andy Marsh, James Ralls and Ben Miles. It was the first venture for the team who went on to open the Belle Isle, Meat and Barrel and start Victorious Festival, first of all in the historic dockyard and then on Southsea Common.
The lease was owned by the Ei Group – formerly known as Enterprise Inns – and in the summer the company announced it would be taking it back when it was up for renewal.
It has now become part of Ei’s Bermondsey Pub Company brand, and as well as the new management the company has revealed that it will be called the Lord John Russell – the name of the original pub on that site – when it opens its doors in December.
It is closed for refurbishment, with promises of a new look and a pizza oven and a focus on food as well as entertainment.
A spokesman for the Lord John Russell said: ‘We can confirm Little Johnny Russells, Portsmouth will be reopening in December under its original name The Lord John Russell.
‘The pub will very much remain true to the original character and feel that its customers know and love, with music and weekly entertainment a high priority for us.
‘When we reopen, customers will be able to enjoy an enhanced drink offer that includes a wide range of craft beers, ciders and spirits.
‘In addition, we are also investing in our kitchen to offer an extensive burgers and dogs menu.
‘We have recruited a local manager to run the pub who has a strong music and entertainment background, to underpin our commitment to giving Southsea a refreshed pub that stays true to what it’s famous for and its treasured guests demand.’
Little Johnny Russells had been a busy drinking spot for Portsmouth residents and visitors for the past decade.
Mr Marsh revealed to The News in August that Little Johnny Russells would be closing and stated that it had been a ‘real pleasure’ to run the business.
He said then: ‘LJR was where it all began for us at the start so it is going to hurt when it’s taken back.’
Another Ei Group site, the Leopold Tavern, also surrendered its lease in February to the Ei Group and reopened recently as a sports bar under new management.