Crystalline waters are still involved. Food is part of this loophole, too, if not one of its biggest charms. Folks, we’re talking about the Twin Cities’ oft-overlooked network of public pools and their bountiful concessions stands.
For those of us who won’t be purchasing our own canoes anytime soon, let alone boats or country club memberships, access to public pools can be a lifesaver—especially when the lakes have been this prone to bacterial blooms. Priced for all, increasingly egalitarian by the year, few places bring together such a diverse cross section of humanity, united in joy, like these contemporary chlorinated watering holes.
Our park boards can go ahead and update facilities with increasingly fancy amenities all they want, but the fundamental glories of splashing around with friends hasn’t changed. Kids still play Marco Polo and dive for rings. Tweens remain awkward as shit, pausing at the ends of diving boards to decide if this is the moment a jackknife will win over their crush. Toddlers waddle around in water wings looking adorable. Lifeguards remain locked in eternal battle with Jerks Who Run.
Above all this rises the promise of concessions. With high school swimmers stationed facility-wide to keep me from drowning by way of phantom-cramp, I donned a bathing suit and went a’grazing so the next time our lakes pull this bacteria-fueled vendetta crap (which they will, usually after periods of heavy rain), you’ll have additional incentive to head to the pool and meet your neighbors.
Let the following guide to pool concessions light your way to refreshment—in and out of chlorinated waters, free of lake weeds.
Minneapolitans might be screwed were it not for Northeast’s Jim Lupient Water Park. Skip the parks peppered with pee-filled kiddie pools: Lupient’s trio of slides and inflatable tubes wash out into a pool decorated with pipes and sprinklers and a challenge course of bobbing “rocks” strung with netting above, all befitting the park’s (duh) quarry theme. The littlest among us wade into the fray from the safety of a zero depth-entrance, while the youthful at heart head to the snack stand, whose wares are hand-scrawled in bright lettering. Highlights include Slush Dog-brand Slushees for $2.50 straight from the 1980s (ordered by color, not flavor), $3.50 “Walkin’ Tacos” served in a bag of Doritos, and an ominous candy called an “Extreme Belt” for just a buck. 1520 Johnson St. NE, Minneapolis. $5 entry
The Richfield Outdoor Pool would feel the most like 1996 out of the gang, were it not for the fact that speakers above the grassy lawn blare Ariana Grande and you can order and then eat a Minion in ice cream form. The staff behind Richfield’s counters wear real-live braces, and take their job very seriously despite it likely being their first. Lifeguards bungle dives from a pair of boards during the dreaded safety break, while everyone waits impatiently for a pair of snaking mint-colored slides to reopen their maws. Two-dollar off-brand Bomb Pops and three-dollar taquitos keep the sweating masses at bay beneath gargantuan blue and yellow umbrellas, while some very unhappy children are force-fed overpriced granola bars acquired by their parents, who utterly missed the point of the word “concessions.” 630 E. 66th St., Richfield. $10 entry
Ask not why the Edina Aquatic Center is pirate-themed. Just enjoy it. The Pirate’s Plunge waterslides spit riders out giggling as the Shipwreck Express zip line drops them back into the pool gasping. Run a circuit between these, a pair of diving boards (high and low), or practice boogie boarding on the Lost Wave. In the end, two kinds of corndogs—of the traditional and mini chicken varieties—Bomb Pops for a dollar (cheaper than at Richfield), and Bubbly sparkling water tend to that rumbling in your stomach. 4300 W. 66th St., Edina. $11.50 entry, $9 after 5 p.m.
St. Paul is #blessed with not one but two outdoor chlorinated paradises for residents, with the same menu of goodies: Como Regional Park Pool and Highland Park Aquatic Center. Highland may have just one lone waterslide, but it makes up for it by decorating its kiddie area with an enormous fish skeleton spurting water everywhere, ensuring that generations of children will become goths. Como’s grounds are sprawling, including a lazy river and cliff jumping!
Running the gamut from healthy to peak teenage decadence, St. Paul is the king of pool snackage. Load up on cinnamon- and sugar-coated State Fair mini-doughnuts for $4 (concessions is careful to note they are baked not fried!) and proper candy priced at just $1.75. They have actual Nerds Ropes, people! On a particularly sweltering weekend, we learned-by-doing that the latter turn awkwardly flaccid in the noonday sun. Thanks to years of popping in for a dip at Highland, we know to never, ever get nachos from a pool concession stand, tempting though they may be at just $3.50: They come in the form of tortilla chips still bagged, with a tiny container of hermetically sealed, ambient-temp cheese dip on the side. Maybe go for a whole flatbread ($9) if you’re feeling feisty? Como: 1151 Wynne Ave., Highland: 1840 Edgcumbe Rd., St. Paul. $7 entry, every third Friday of the month $2
If you remain unmoved after all of this “in-depth” “research,” please consider this: Several of these paradises contain vending machines filled with goggles, diving rings, sunscreen, and fresh diapers... stocked for all you non-eating haters.