Ben Ali, 1927-2009
Today we got the sad news that Ben Ali, founder of DC institution Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street, passed away Wednesday night of congestive heart failure. Ben and his wife Virginia opened the restaurant in 1958 and it quickly became a fixture. Its casual atmosphere and unforgettable chili half-smokes have been a favorite of visiting entertainers, DC luminaries, and everyone else in the city for more than fifty years. It’s been an attention-getter for decades, and was the only business to remain open through the 1968 riots — and has remained a force in the neighborhood, non-stop, through all the changes U Street has seen over the years. One thing that hadn’t changed for the past twenty-plus years was the sign behind the counter that read: “List of Who Eats Free At Ben’s: Bill Cosby. No One Else”; that is, until the sign was changed to add the Obama Family (with the notation “but he paid”).
Ben’s has been featured in just about every travelogue related to DC that one can think of! Recent expansions include the new Nationals Ballpark and Ben’s Next Door.
We at DC Metblogs want to express our heartfelt condolences to the Ali family. Rest in peace, Ben, and thanks for creating such a great place for us Washingtonians to love.