‘State Fair Affair’ in NYC: good will, beer — and Franken

A long line of Minnesota expats wait to enter the "Minnesota State Fair Affair."
MinnPost photo by Dylan Dawson
A long line of Minnesota expats wait to enter the “Minnesota State Fair Affair.”

NEW YORK — Perhaps it was the heartfelt song, “Anthem of the North Star Republic,” which opened the event, or the two — two! — rivaling depictions of a post-collapsed Metrodome carved out of butter.

Or perhaps it was that while judging the food-on-a-stick competition, Sen. Al Franken asked one Edina-born contestant (to the knowing laughter of an electrified crowd) why she hadn’t simply put some cake on a stick.

Or maybe it was just all the good will and beer.

But at some point during the “Minnesota State Fair Affair” Sunday afternoon, I had to remind myself that I was still in Brooklyn.

First Avenue’s wall re-created at Bell House
The “State Fair Affair,” a celebration of all things deep-fried and dairy, took place at the Bell House, a bar-and-music venue in Brooklyn, N.Y., a long, long way from First Avenue (although that club’s famous star-studded wall was re-created on the Bell House’s walls).

The event, both organized and attended by transplanted Minnesotans in their late 20s and early 30s, marked the first joint effort between three New York organizations — Minneapple in the Big Apple, Minnesota State Fair Day, and the Minnesota Culture Club  —  that are all devoted to helping Minnesota’s ex-pats honor and celebrate the Twin Cities.

If the roughly 1,000 or so guests sporting Twins caps and Vikings T-shirts (while waiting patiently in a line impressive even by New York standards) was any indication, many similar events will undoubtedly follow.

“If there are Minnesota groups in the city, they’re going to find each other,” said Jay Ackley, who besides being the singer/songwriter behind “The Anthem of the North Star Republic” is part of a three-person team, along with Mishka Vertin and Tara Jensen, that currently organizes Minneapple in the Big Apple. Founded by Nora Riemenschneider (who has since moved back to the Twin Cities but remains involved), Minneapple hosts a “Minnesota Happy Hour” on the first Friday of every month at Le Poisson Rouge in Manhattan’s West Village.

Initial organizers: Minneapple
Minneapple was also the initial brains behind the “State Fair Affair,” but once it booked the event, it immediately brought in their friends the Minnesota Culture Club and the Minnesota State Fair Day as co-hosts.      

“We’ve always been like organization besties,” says Laura Carter, event organizer with Minnesota State Fair Day. “Minneapple has been super supportive of us in the past. … Minnesota Culture Club is a new relationship for us, but we love their involvement with Minnesota, too. Working together has been fantastic.”

Host Sam Osterhout chats with special guest Sen. Al Franken.
MinnPost photo by Dylan Dawson
Host Sam Osterhout chats with special guest Sen. Al Franken.

Minnesota Culture Club (MCC) is the newest of these organizations to hit New York. Originally founded in 2004 at Ithaca College by Rafi Golberstein and Sam Utne (interviewed last week for MinnPost), it wasn’t until recently that the two proud Twin Cities natives re-launched MCC as an online network for emerging Minnesota talent looking for collaborators and fans beyond the borders of their home state.

A matter of Minnesota pride
Golberstein’s motivation for generating this network was simple: It was a matter of pride. “I think a lot of people that are not from Minnesota, especially on the East Coast, are sort of not really receptive to what goes on west of Pennsylvania or even New York for that matter,” he said. “So, yeah, I think there’s a lot of pride. People who leave the state often get overlooked, like, ‘Oh, you’re from Minnesota. That’s farmtown, Mall of America. …’ But there’s so much to Minnesota and the Twin Cities to be proud of, and the people here really want to acknowledge it and say, ‘Hey I’m not just from Minnesota, I’m from the best state in the union. Let me tell you why it’s so amazing.’ And I think that really brings people together.”

Golberstein wasn’t only an organizer of the event. His “Matzo ball on a stick” was one of the State Fair-inspired foods that made it to the “finals” to face the judgment (and wit) of Franken.

“I guess you’re from St. Louis Park,” Franken quipped after tasting Golbenstein’s entry. “Hands down, you win ‘most Jewish.’ ”

It was a joke that wouldn’t play anywhere beyond the Twin Cities normally, but yesterday afternoon — in an overflowing bar in Brooklyn — it killed.

Dylan Dawson is a playwright, performer and documentary researcher. He grew up in Minneapolis and currently lives in New York City.

Sen. Al Franken speaks to the crowd at the “Minnesota State Fair Affair” on Sunday.

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