A BIG old mock Tudor lump of a place – I had no idea what to expect from the Garden Bar.

But walking into the place it immediately felt welcoming in a homely kind of way.

At first I wasn’t sure why, but after walking through the bar I realised it feels like a whole series of different people’s front rooms – a sort of cross between an old-fashioned Irish pub with separate booths and an exhibition centre with individual stands.

On the positive side this means that if you are in the mood for a bit of peace and quiet you can choose a separate section and feel right at home.

There are even three separate open fireplaces in different areas of the pub to help you create this individual home-from-home feel. I spied two large red dividing doors to turn the pub into two separate venues.

There wasn’t a huge choice of beers available – two pumps weren’t on and I have to admit I tried both the Harvey’s Sussex Best Bitter and Partridge, but neither seemed great so I reverted to the bog standard Kronenbourg.

The barmaid Aiala was absolutely lovely and extremely helpful. Festive decorations were going up fast and staff were even piling them up on the bar but Aiala, who has a birthday herself on December 2, agreed with me that they shouldn’t be seen before the start of the final month.

I took a comfortable seat on a sofa in the “red lounge” and was immediately joined by a friend who climbed into the seat alongside me – it was a bit tight for comfort, but given my companion was a gorgeous, friendly black spaniel I was happy to share.

This is clearly a dog-friendly establishment and, unlike me, they’re able to drink free – there’s even an occasional dog lover’s single and mingle event held in among the regular speed dating nights.

Unfortunately my furry friend wasn’t chatty so I spoke instead to the guy at the bar.

He informed me the pub has had several different guises over the years and has, at different times been Noble House, Golden Cross, Mansfield Arms and the Jamaica Inn. This last incarnation seems to have attracted a certain notoriety in the area so it’s not surprising the current owners, who took over about a year ago, were keen to ditch the name and also the reputation that went with it.

It might not be the weather for it, but the theme of individual booths is carried on outside in what must be Brighton’s biggest pub garden. The wooden booths are separated with bundles of sticks and as well as heaters are equipped with iPod docks. There’s also a big barbecue set-up – looks brilliant for summer.

Currently the garden is piled high with Christmas trees and the guy, who shared the history of the pub, explained he’s a landscape gardener most of the year but as the ground is now so waterlogged he prefers to concentrate on bulk selling trees – he’s already had 3,000 delivered. The pub is one of his busiest outlets.

Both screens now fired up to show the bottom-of-the table clash between Everton and West Ham. They advertise all the games and are clearly keen to attract sport lovers. I didn’t watch for too long and it might be early days, but the Hammers have to be set for the drop – David Moyes hasn’t got a clue.

A regular, by the name of Pete, now joined us and the barman busying himself with everything but serving drinks, instantly flicked him a “friendly” finger. But the feeling of being a proper local with all the great stuff that entails isn’t achieved at the cost of making those who just pop in feel unwelcome – and that’s one of the greatest challenges for any bar.

There is a quiz night at 8pm every Wednesday and a games night on a Thursday, add to this the speed dating and burger Tuesday and it’s clear they are doing all they can to encourage folk in.

The last punter in while I was there was another fellow who hadn’t visited for years. He was accompanied by Ivy, a puppy he’d rescued from Cyprus, and he was very quick to say the pub had improved massively and he’d be back on a regular basis. He was also a big fan of Aiala.

I really got to love this pub while I was there and, while it might have had a chequered past, I admire the new owners for trying to take it in a different direction. The way the pub has been set up is unique and they deserve credit for trying something new – I hope it proves to be a huge success.

The Garden Bar, 324 Portland Road, Hove BN3 5LF

Decor: *****

A home from home – unique in my experience, I hope it’s successful

Drink: **

They could do with a better selection of beers

Price: ***

£4.40 for a pint of Kronenbourg

Atmosphere: ****

I loved it, perfectly created by welcoming staff, dogs and locals

Staff: ****

Aiala is a winner, a very happy birthday to you tomorrow

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