Is there anything better than taking an extended lunch on a sunny Friday afternoon? There is if that extended lunch includes a chili dog block party. Celebrating their 50th year (50 years!) in operation, DC institution Ben's Chili Bowl threw a party for the U Street neighborhood this past Friday.
Ben and Virginia Ali opened their small restaurant in the renovated Minnehaha Theatre in August of 1958. The theater was originally constructed in 1910 and had hosted silent movies prior to becoming a pool hall. Situated along the U Street corridor Ben's has been a staple within the neighborhood that has long been the center of Washington, D.C. music and culture. Historic Jazz clubs like the Howard Theatre, the Bohemian Caverns, and the Lincoln Theatre hosted performers such as Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald, creating a scene that was referred to as "Black Broadway," well before the rise of Black Harlem. "The Bowl" has hosted its share of celebrities, serving its delicious chili and half-smoke sausages to the likes of Miles Davis, Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole, Redd Foxx, Dick Gregory and even Martin Luther King Jr. Ben's most dedicated customer, Bill Cosby, even courted his wife, Camille, here in the early 1960's.
Ben's has been witness to decades of history and neighborhood regeneration, and if the crowd that turned out Friday for lunch is any indication, it will continue to do so for years to come. The line to get a half-smoke on Friday extended well out the door, into the street, wrapping around the Green Line Metro station. In the end, as you can plainly see, the wait was worth it.
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