Bar code: In the Norfolk LA pub, the staff dance on the bar, the drinkers are under-age and there's no booze. Julie Aschkenasy reports

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The Independent Culture
In some respects you can believe this is a normal pub. Fag machines, beer mats, fruit machine and customers propping up the bar. All the normal rules of a licensed pub apply . . . except that this pub has no beer. Brighton's Norfolk LA, formerly The Norfolk Arms, believes itself to be the only alcohol-free pub in the south of England.

As I sipped my fluorescent Miami Cooler (tonic water, apple and blackcurrant juice decorated with a confection of cherries and paper umbrella), a handful of teenagers leapt to the dance floor. The bar staff acted as if they had just been released from the Academy of FAME. Skills required for the bar jobs range from wearing an air-hostess smile while juggling, singing and dancing to mixing a Las Vegas Lip Smacker.

Mark had just performed an energetic bar-top dance routine with his fellow workers. He proclaimed this his ideal job: 'I love singing and dancing but I don't approve of the club scene. Drugs and drinks ruin the atmosphere. I can have more fun working here.'

But normal pubs don't usually have a dance floor with disco lights, resident DJ and 14-year-old boys dancing hip hop. There is a vaguely American theme to the pub with a uniform of stars-and- stripes shirts and cartoon-style graffiti adorning the walls.

The Norfolk LA, which opened on 20 December, is aimed at anyone who doesn't need alcohol to have a good time. More specifically it is aimed at teenagers who are too young to drink but tend to congregate in pubs and clubs because they feel there is nowhere suitable for them to go. This is their pub: a place they can relax in with people their own age and hopefully avoid social pressures to drink alcohol. That's the theory. The local police approve. The East Sussex Health Authority approve. So it's not a place for teenage rebels who will probably still haunt the amusement arcades and street corners.

Dave Manser from Pubs Unlimited, who manages the Norfolk, said the idea was a joint effort and originated from a survey of young people conducted by the East Sussex County Council. 'We felt there was a need in the Brighton area. The number-one suggestion from the survey was for a non-alcoholic pub. So we went ahead. There is overwhelming support from student organisations, sixth-form colleges and the health authority. We have installed pounds 30,000 worth of lighting and sound equipment. I have four youngsters myself. Who needs drugs and alcohol to come and enjoy themselves?'.

What about the underage kids I saw smoking? 'We are sorting all those problems out now. We have the cigarette machine in visible distance from the bar. We also have security staff. All staff have been on a course on problems in the area, including drug abuse, violence and agression.'

Bar manager Martyn Newman shares the enthusiasm of his staff. 'I jumped at the chance to run this place. I don't drink so it's ideal. One guy said, 'What's the point of going in there if you can't get legless?' ' I began to feel quite thirsty and escaped for a quick half and some trad jazz in the hostelry opposite.

Norfolk LA, Grand Parade, Brighton; normal pub hours apply

(Photograph omitted)

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