On the last day of the State Fair, Minnesotans cooled off with lemonade and sorbet after the Giant Slide, and found quiet spots out of the sun to eat fair favorites and savor a few final hours of summer — even if the scorching heat made it feel more like mid-July than Labor Day.
The weather has been a challenge for many visitors this year, with some of the hottest days falling during the fair. Temperatures in the Twin Cities Monday reached 98 degrees, tying a record set in 1925. People crowded into the shade between buildings and under trees. One of the longest lines was for free cold water near the entrance. Fair vendors noticed a change with the heat wave, too. Sales of deep-fried foods dropped, as people reached for ice pops and slushies.
"It's been so hot, it's hard to eat," said Kelly Deegan of Farmington as she and Karen Martin of Eagan noted a long line for the Amish doughnuts.
The first 11 days of the 2023 fair saw just over 1.7 million visitors, about 30,000 more than visited during the first 11 days of the 2022 fair. Labor Day in 2022 saw just over 150,000 visitors, and the last day of the fair is not usually one of the busiest.
This year, Labor Day visitors — procrastinators and those who make the last day of the fair a tradition — tried not to let the heat hold them back.
Labor Day is the easiest day to wrangle a pack of friends to go to the fair, said Dan Johnson of Richfield, since so many are off work. He knew it would be hot, but his group was still working through a long list of must-eats on Monday.
"We have favorites and we're trying a little bit of new," Johnson said. He nibbled a slice of pickle pizza on Monday morning, sitting under a mister on a bar patio, and said he was most excited to get a pork-stuffed galabao from Union Hmong Kitchen.
Sam and Annie Anderson of Minnetonka brought sons Jack, almost 9, and Nick, 3, to the fair early Monday morning.
"We had a list," Annie Anderson said. "All the staples."
They made sure to hit the Minnesota Wild booth for kids' street hockey, and watched a trout eating minnows in the fish pond. They dove into a pile of cream cheese wontons on a bench behind the Merchandise Mart, seeking refuge from the sun in the dusty alleyway.
A few cooler days last week made it easier to sell deep-fried fair standbys, said Jake Schally, who owns a Pronto Pup stand parked near the grandstand. But the heat on Monday meant fewer customers, he said. The temperature inside the stand can be hard to manage, so Schally's crew works in short intervals.
"It's a blast," said fry cook Gabriel Prochnow with just a hint of sarcasm as he nursed grease-burned fingers and a glass of ice water outside the Pronto Pup stand.
Penelope Figueroa and Martha Boyt of St. Paul have had a lot of fun working at the Hamline Church Dining Hall's ice cream window this year, selling some of the coolest new State Fair foods — paletas, or ice pops, including one flavored like mini doughnuts and a neon-green dill pickle-lemonade paleta.
"People come back and say, 'That's the best thing I've ever had,'" Boyt said. "Which is just the best."
The pickle paleta was one of the new foods Ashley Perala of Maple Grove decided to try this year. The verdict? "It feels like it shouldn't work, but it does!"
Perala usually sticks to mac-and-cheese on a stick and French fries, but decided to branch out this year. She had walleye fritters Monday morning, she said, and was making her way to the lemon sorbet stand after the pickle paleta.
Kianna Dolezal and Lizzie Schmieg have been staying at the fairgrounds for almost a week, they said, to show rabbits with FFA. They took their rabbits home Sunday — so Labor Day was all about having fun, no matter how hot it got.
"Now it's like, OK, let's enjoy the last day of the fair," Dolezal said.
They toted a bucket of cookies on the way to the Mighty Midway for a few more rides, and debated another round of shaved ice.
Star Tribune staff writer Liz Navratil contributed to this report.