When nature calls: Finding relief at the Minnesota State Fair


Tucked behind the Chevy pickups and Isuzu semi trailers off of Cooper Street at the Minnesota State Fair there’s a place where you can find relief from the crowds and the clamor. It’s a red clapboard building with the word “Restroom” painted across it: men’s on one side and women’s on the other. Just one block from the every-day-at-2 p.m. parade route, the packed Fine Arts building and the bustling Eco Experience, and only a stone’s throw from the Family Fair in Baldwin Park, you don’t have to wait to use the bathroom.

There’s no line. There’s toilet paper in every stall. A couple of teenage girls keep the sinks clean, and the bench out front is often empty so you can take a breather while waiting for your companion to finish up.

You can’t spend a day at the fair without using a toilet, and the Great Minnesota Get-Together has lots of them.

Step right up, folks. Here’s your State Fair guide to using the loo: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The good

Location, location, location means a lot when you have to go. The Grandstand offers up two colossal restrooms on each end of the main floor with dozens of stalls, sinks and towel dispensers. Despite its mass, there’s also a mass of people swarming the two-floors of merchandise mania where you can buy anything from a handwriting analysis to bamboo polo shirts, sushi knives and extension cords. That means a packed facility. If you can hold it for a short jog down Nelson Street and slip behind the Giant Slide, you’ll find another hidden gem: restrooms with lots of stalls, a drinking fountain inside both the women’s and men’s johns, private accessible stalls and hardly any consumers.

Women, this is for you: If you’ve suddenly got the urge to use the biffy after spending too much time in the Horticulture Building sampling Minnesota-made wine and laughing a bit too hard at the Michele Bachmann-inspired seed art, don’t let the lines at that restroom daunt you. Pat and Jane will help you find the first available stall.

“Right here, baby, right here,” Pat beckons to the first woman in line. “Number 3 is open.”

She gives the marching orders, and that means move. The two women (who declined to give last names) are working their first year at the fair, keeping things running at a fast clip in the 60-year-old facility. “There’s no toilet paper in stall 6,” Pat yells to Jane, and Jane quickly heads over to the stall with rolls in hand. No lock on stall 12? “Here, baby, let’s try a different stall,” Pat coos to one of her patrons.

The bad

By all appearances, the brand new enormous restrooms at the International Bazaar seem just the spot to hit after listening to some salsa music and downing a couple of Summits. But that’s the problem: everyone else just finished their beers too.

Using a restroom near any of the free entertainment or beer gardens is trying. You can catch someone singing your favorite Neil Diamond tune at the nonstop karaoke stage in the Garden on Underwood Street while you wait, but then you’ll probably also have to listen to someone sing “Billie Jean” and a show tune you can’t quite put your finger on before you can uncross those legs.

Hearing music while you wait your turn does help soothe the pain. At Heritage Square there’s often some great bluegrass and old-time music to sway to while waiting, plus those restrooms, though not the prettiest on the grounds, offer little niceties like squares of what looks like the handmade soap that’s sold at a couple of the booths in the square.

The ugly

Have you visited the lavatories in the animal barns?

The sanctuary

The Mighty Midway offers plenty of plastic porta-potties right next to the freak show, but the Kidway northeast of there between Underwood and Cooper streets has real flush toilets with sinks and security. No visiting politicians will get away with foot tapping or lewd and lascivious behavior here. Right next to the paintings of carousel horses and State Fair mascots Fairchild and Fairborne are signs that say, “This restroom is under video surveillance by State Fair Police.”

 Kristal Leebrick is a freelance writer in St. Paul.