The weekend marks the 50th anniversary of a venerable D.C. institution, Ben’s Chili Bowl, which has long been the hub of Washington’s U Street Corridor. The slingers of half-smokes and chili dogs are celebrating big this weekend by holding a series of events, including a gala hosted by Bill Cosby tonight at the Lincoln theater (Cosby fell in love with the sausages while serving in the Army – he apparently could once eat six at a time), a block party out in front of the shop on Friday, and a tribute concert at the 9:30 Club on Saturday.
Ben’s Chili is run by Ben Ali’s two sons Kamal and Nizam (Ben and wife Virginia retired last year), and the storefront has a storied history. Located on the center of “Black Broadway,” D.C.’s jazz district, it was one of the few buildings on U Street to survive the race riots that burned out sections of D.C. after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. Its role in the community was unique: Local organizer Stokely Charmichael held his meetings at Ben’s, and firefighters and police officers would also frequent the shop in the aftermath of the riots. Today the restaurant is in the center of the revitalized U Street Corridor, and a wide cross-section of D.C. comes in to order milkshakes, chili, burgers, cheese grits, and fries. Last year, the self-proclaimed “greasy spoon” even got environmentally savvy, joining a renewable energy collective of local businesses in the D.C. area.
So if you’re in D.C. this weekend, order a half-smoke to celebrate five delicious decades of Ben’s.
Read More: The Washington Post has a great gallery of photos highlighting the history of Ben’s Chili Bowl.
Photo: Karen Ballard, via Traveler’s Washington D.C. Places of a Lifetime photo gallery.
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