The area’s longest-running community carnival returns as the 57th annual Fair Haven Firemen’s Fair gets underway Friday night. (Photo and video by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

fh fair 082413 9Generations on the Greater Red Bank Green have known it as a bittersweet occasion — a last dance with the devil-may-care pleasures of the season before that inevitable pivot to thoughts of “back to school” and “where’s my sweater?”

The Fair Haven Firemen’s Fair is all of that and more, and when this oldest (and, many agree, greatest) of all local carnivals puts down stakes for a 57th annual edition that begins Friday evening, it will hold as many different meanings (and represent as many vivid memories) as there are people who have thrilled to its rides, vied for its prizes and stood in line for an order from its celebrated seafood café.

fh fair 082413 10Get your burgers Friday night. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

amanda lynn 082413Continuing every evening through September 3 except Sunday, August 28, the fair commandeers the grounds of the borough firehouse (645 River Road… but really, you can’t miss it) for a compact but action-packed spectacle that features such perennial favorite attractions as the back-lot beer wagon and “Out Back” snack bar, the midway games and the strolling Super 50/50 ticket vendors, the fire truck excursions and the kiddie-ride corridor, and the “big kid” rides (Zipper, Wipeout, Rainbow) that seduce with a flash of light and motion.

Then there’s that justifiably famous fresh seafood kitchen and dining room — a beyond-busy operation overseen by the Fair Haven Fire Department’s Auxiliary, and an attraction for which locals wait all year (and start lining up right about now). All proceeds raised from food sales, raffles, games, and ride tickets are dedicated to the operations of the borough’s century-old, all-volunteer fire department — and, as always, all vendors, volunteers and food prep personnel are hometown neighbors.

Longtime residents and visitors have made the fair part of their own traditions, whether reconvening with family and friends or seeing the kids off to another academic year. And, as we’ve said in the past, newcomers may very well find this event to be several cuts above the traveling-carnival norm — and as spectacular a welcome as you’re likely to find anywhere.

Hours for the 2016 Fair Haven Firemen’s Fair are 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Keep it tuned to redbankgreen for ongoing coverage  — and check our online archive for highlights from previous editions, including a colorful slideshow from 2010; a 2011 photo essay on the making of the fair’s clam chowder, and a 2014 inside look at the seafood kitchen by PieHole‘s Susan Ericson.