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Spicing things up at Jalapeno Pete’s


Jalapeno Pete’s bartenders are all part of the fun at this state fair staple. Pictured are Will Schwartz (left) and Jacob Hagedorn (right).

Jalapeno Pete’s bartenders are all part of the fun at this state fair staple. Pictured are Will Schwartz (left) and Jacob Hagedorn (right).

By the time you read this, you may have already gotten your fill on the topic of the Iowa State Fair. But the opportunity to belly up to a bar at the fair — a place like Jalapeno Pete’s, for example — only comes once year, so bear with me.

Of course, if you like crowds, live entertainment, women in over-sized cowgirl hats and domestic beer on tap (Bud Light is the top seller, according to bartender Will Schwartz), then it’s as fine a drinking establishment as the next option — as the illustrious Bud Tent, even. It’s not easy to get a seat at the bar, but plenty of tables and chairs make up for that. If you can get a seat, though, you won’t find friendlier conversationalists than its staff despite a demanding and thirsty drove of patrons.

“I’ve worked for (owners Sue Hagedorn and Gary Kirke) several years. They also have a funnel cake stand,” Schwartz said. “I used to work there.” So did Hagedorn’s son, Jacob, Schwartz’s co-bartender.

But Hagedorn and Schwartz have long since graduated to more adult audiences. And despite the fairgrounds’ anti-liquor policy, business is good. Hence the incessant bell-ringing.

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“We ring the bell every time we get a tip,” Schwartz explained after assaulting the bell over his head with a couple hard whacks. Are tips that infrequent?

“No, but people love it,” he said. “Once in a while we’ll get a Debbie Downer who will tip us to not ring the bell — to stop ringing the bell.”

No problem… as long as they tip. As the back of Schwartz’s Jalapeno Pete’s T-shirt explains: “Tip Me or Go Thirsty.” Think I’ll stick with the former. Here’s five bucks. Ding! Ding! Ding!

Every year the owners offer their staff three or four T-shirts with clever quips on the back. Surprisingly the prettiest girl among the bunch chose: “Me + You + Beer – You = Happiness.” Too funny… and probably true. Smartass as they are, the T-shirts merely represent the owners’ and staff’s good-humored nature. At $6 a beer, it’s expected that not everyone will slip a bill into the tip jar. But don’t feel sorry for Will and Jacob. They get plenty of turns at the bell.

“Some people will sit here and tip us just so they can sit at the bar and listen to the band play,” Hagedorn said.

Last Friday night Haywire kept audiences entertained. And almost no one seemed to notice when the “Sweet Home Alabama” rip-off song by Kid Rock played during a set break just before the band performed the classic Lynyrd Skynyrd version. Too funny, again.

Next week, check out Haywire and others on the Jalapeno Pete’s stage, but get there early to find a cozy spot at the bar: prime real estate for cold beer, a fun atmosphere and enough Iowa State Fair people-watching to satisfy even the solo drinker. CV

Jalapeno Pete’s
Iowa State Fairgrounds
HOURS: 9 a.m. to midnight
KITCHEN HOURS: 10 a.m. to close
CAPACITY: A lot! Indoor/outdoor bar seating/table seating plus an upper deck level
ENTERTAINMENT: Thursday, Aug. 15 – Zach Flaherty 1-4 p.m., Brad Morgan Band 4-8 p.m., Tony Bohnenkamp 8 p.m.-12 a.m.; Friday, Aug. 16 – Zach Flaherty 1-3 p.m., Haywire 4-8 p.m., Tony Bohnenkamp 8 p.m.-12 a.m.; Saturday, Aug. 17 – Mike Aceto 1-4 p.m., Haywire 4-8 p.m., Tony Bohnenkamp 8 p.m.-12 a.m.; Sunday, Aug. 18 – Zach Flaherty 1-4 p.m., Tony Bohnenkamp 4-8 p.m., Haywire 8 p.m.-12 a.m.


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