2014 fair offers new ways to meet, eat, retreat

A wet start to the 2014 State Fair
It was a wet opening morning at the 2014 Minnesota State Fair on Thursday, Aug. 21 2014.
Jeffrey Thompson/MPR News

The food stands have their finishing touches.

The kegs are rolled off the beer trucks and into the coolers.

West End Gate
The new West End Gate located near the new Minnesota State Fair transit hub.
Courtesy of Minnesota State Fair

The rides are put together.

And fresh stripes have been spray-painted onto the parking lots.

At 6 a.m. Thursday, the gates opened for a tradition dating back almost 160 years. About 1.7 million people are expected to visit Falcon Heights between Thursday and Labor Day. They will find some of the biggest changes to the fairgrounds in nearly a century.

The facelift includes a $17.5 million upgrade to the west end of the fair, two permanent restaurants and a brand-new gateway to the fairgrounds.

Jerry Hammer, the State Fair's general manager, describes the new West End Gate as "a super gate."

"It's big," he said. "It's nice, it's spacious. There's a lot of room inside for people. There's a plaza, a big plaza...you can meet people there, and then either head down in the west end or go through the old streetcar arch down into the fairgrounds."

Typically, about half the people who come to the fair take mass transit, and fair officials expect that about a third of all fairgoers will enter through the new gate, adjacent to the fair's new transit hub. Metro Transit says there's also a new — albeit indirect — option to get to the fair that uses the Green Line. Trains will drop off riders at Snelling and University about every 10 minutes, according to Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb. He said the No. 84 bus will carry riders from the light rail stop to the fairgrounds.

State Fair west end
An aerial view of the new west end plaza, featuring vendor stands, new restaurants and transit entrance.
Tim Nelson/MPR News

Gone from the fairgrounds is the old Heritage Square, a separate area with a small stage and a few dozen vendors. The area started out as the Teen Fair in the mid '60s and morphed into an Early American-themed attraction for the Bicentennial.

Now, two new restaurants, an amphitheater, restrooms, a museum and a flea-market-like commercial plaza have sprung up in its place, just north of the Mighty Midway. The restaurants are LuLu's Public House and the Blue Barn, a fair-time version of the well-known Blue Plate restaurants located around the Twin Cities.

Fair spokeswoman Brienna Schuette said there are nearly 30 new food offerings this year.

"So, everything from deep-fried lobster on a stick to a bacon-wrapped turkey leg to chocolate salami," she said. "The list really runs the gamut of everything sweet and salty and everything in between."

Chocolate dessert salami
The Sausage Sisters will be introducing "Chocolate Dessert Salami." It doesn't actually have any meat in it -- it's just chocolate and nuts made to look like salami and served on a cracker.
Courtesy of Minnesota State Fair

The list includes beer gelato, bison dogs, Jell-O salad ice cream, pizza dogs and, at the Shrimp Shack, shrimp dogs — deep fried and served, of course, on a stick.

Other new attractions include the Bull Riders of America show on Tuesday and a reboot of the daily showcases of horses and riding in the Warner Coliseum.

There's a stunt-dog demonstration sharing the stage with the lumberjack show this year, and four new rides have been added to the Kidway area.

The Midway offers four new rides for adults, although the premier ride at the entrance will be familiar: The Skyflyer giant swing ride is back this year. It debuted in 2009.

Gates open at 6 a.m. The fair is open daily to midnight most nights and closes for the season at 10 p.m. on Sept. 1.

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