There are plenty of folks out there who have no trouble using public restrooms – even at the Minnesota State Fair.
This article is not for those people.
On Friday, I visited every public bathroom on the map – literally. Lots of people use the State Fair smartphone app to find the crazy new foods they've heard about, but I was using it to find restrooms.
Yes, I got a few weird looks, but I was on an important mission: investigating the state of State Fair bathrooms, and using my findings to make recommendations for those of you who are particular about where you "go."
The basic rundown
The Minnesota State Fair has 30 restrooms, including freestanding buildings dedicated solely to bladder and bowel relief, as well as the facilities inside various buildings (like the Grandstand and the 4-H Building).
That's according to the official State Fair map (and my tired, tired feet). But we can break it down even further than this, just in case you're interested.
The dirty details
By far the biggest issue I noticed on my adventure is that scourge of all bathroom-sensitive men, the urinal trough.
About half of all State Fair bathrooms use these undignified, barbaric things. Most are in the older buildings on the fairgrounds, so if you have a full bladder it's probably best to avoid those.
And while most of the facilities are in pretty good shape in terms of maintenance and cleanliness, a couple are just embarrassing – and one in particular seems like a building-code violation waiting to happen.
The good: The restroom by the Kidway
No doubt about it, the new restroom buildings are the best.
These standalone lavatories can be found next to places like the International Bazaar, the Kidway (more on this beauty below), the Great Big Wheel (at the corner of Randall and Underwood), and the DNR building.
Each is clean, spacious, has miles of stalls and urinals, and good flow (pardon the pun) of traffic thanks to separate entrances and exits.
But the crown jewel of these modern bathrooms is the one next to the Kidway, which is on Cooper Street just east of the Grandstand. It takes the (urinal) cake not only for its modern accommodations, but also a super-convenient bank of private, one-person-at-a-time restrooms in addition to the big communal ones.
The bad: The Grandstand Ramp, or any other 'old' restroom
This place is everything that's wrong with State Fair toilets. It looks like it hasn't been updated since the Nixon Administration, and in general has the feeling of a gym bathroom at a failing, dilapidated high school.
Perhaps most striking of all here is the chipping, peeling paint, which is all over the ceilings and hard not to notice (see above).
The gross: The Cattle Barn, or any other livestock building
The washrooms in the livestock barns have the same "charm" as the ones at the Grandstand Ramp, but often with poor lighting, pungent animal odors, and cruelly long lines for women.
But of special note is the one in the Cattle Barn, where curtains – yes, curtains – serve as the stall-doors.
In the bathroom's defense, it's well attended; I wanted to get photographic proof of said curtains, but a maintenance staffer walked in, and I felt weird.
In this humble bathroom-goer's opinion, the State Fair has two big issues to fix:
1) The pee troughs have to go. There's a shockingly high number of them.
2) Women are waiting too long to use the bathrooms, especially in the older buildings – which are in dire need of renovation (see issue No. 1).
All that said, the fair deserves credit for keeping things amazingly clean in spite of all the challenges. Not once did I see anything vomit-inducing.
What you said
For all the complaints, it seems we modern fairgoers have it pretty easy, judging by what Facebook user Jean Bellefeuille said:
We also asked St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman (yes, really) what he thought about the fair's bathrooms. He said he didn't "have an opinion" on them, necessarily, but was "glad that they're there."
However, he did note one small maintenance issue: apparently, the "lights weren't on" in one bathroom he visited on opening day.
When we asked our followers for their recommendations, another user was (quite understandably) guarded:
No apologies necessary, Jackie. We're not telling, either.