The State Fair of Texas is like a marathon is almost every respect. For those planning to have a drink or two while there, it helps having a few tricks to stretch your tolerance and your wallet.
For example, the State Fair of Texas does not permit the sale of liquor, so if you're buying a "cocktail," know it's actually a wine-based beverage. Most places charge 12 coupons ($6) for a domestic beer and 14 coupons ($7) for a craft beer, but there are select bars selling suds for half that price. And if you are looking forward to trying the new Caramel Sea Salt Beer, be warned: You're buying an abhorrently sweet Best Damn Cream Soda drizzled with caramel syrup.
This year, we drank our way through the State Fair to find the bars with the best offerings, so you can make the most of the fair with a beverage in hand.
Best amenities: Texas Ice House
Two words: air conditioning. Located near the Chevrolet Main Stage where several noteworthy musicians are playing throughout the State Fair, the Texas Ice House is one of the rare spots that accepts cash and credit cards for purchases. It's also one of the rare bars with a climate-controlled interior, which will satisfy fairgoers looking for a reprieve from the weather. The indoor bar offers about 100 canned beers that patrons can sip while sitting on one of the leather barstools and watching sports on one of the numerous televisions. The Texas Ice House also includes two patio areas and a second bar outdoors. Portable toilets are located on-site.
Best ambience: Trio on the Green
New to the fair this year, the Trio on the Green is an adorable little oasis where you'll want to sit and stay a while. It's aptly named, too — bars here serve beer, wine and cocktails by the flight. Grab a trio and take a seat on tree-covered patio area. Air-conditioned bathrooms are available in the neighboring Coliseum Marketplace for your convenience. If you're not already full on crazy fried foods, the Trio on the Green serves bar snacks, which also come in flights. After you've filled up, duck into the Photo Wagon, a trailer-turned-photo booth, and strike a pose.
Best selection: State Fair Wine Garden
Located near the Pan America Arena, the State Fair Wine Garden is the optimal place to decompress after visiting the petting zoo or watching animal races. Vendors here sell samples of their best varietals for as little as two or four coupons ($1-$2), so drinkers can try them before before deciding to buy a glass or bottle. Wine may be the main attraction, but this bar also offers dozens of locally brewed craft beers, a few frozen drinks and wine popsicles. If you can snag a seat under the suspended umbrellas, you'll be rewarded with live music performed on a quaint stage in the courtyard.
Best patio: Magnolia Beer Garden
The Magnolia Beer Garden includes several outdoor areas on Grand Avenue, near Gate 5. String lights hang between the lush trees and the gardens are peppered with flowers and gourds. In addition to wine and the infamous smoky bacon margarita, there are more than 100 beer taps between Magnolia's numerous bars serving a variety of craft and domestic options. If you're looking for a reprieve from crowds, head to the covered patio on the main bar's backside, which also boasts several TVs and a projection screen that is usually broadcasting sports. Otherwise, meander to the pub-style tables near the Perot Museum Building. Almost every seat here has a direct line of sight to Big Tex, so you still feel part of the bustle.
Best escape from crowds: Beer Haven
Beer Haven is a massive beer garden near gate eight, anchored by an 18-wheeler that's been outfitted with 60 draft beer taps. Because it's separated from the madness of the Midway by the Texas Star Ferris wheel and from passersby on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard by the truck/bar, Beer Haven feels like its own little enclave. There isn't a ton of seating here, but few areas at the fair offer the serenity of watching the Ferris wheel spin while imbibing a local brew.