Archive for the ‘History’ Category

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.

Bens on U Street (wikimedia).  Thanks for everything!

Ben's on U Street (wikimedia). Thanks for everything!

DC to Be Dan Browned-And What to Do About It

Lost Symbol cover

With the advent of Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol” this coming  Tuesday, the secret societies of the DC area are bracing for a sudden onrush of tourists to their places of…secrecy, I guess?  As early as Tuesday night (Seriously-how long does it take to read a Dan Brown book?) throngs of Dan Brown devotees could be showing up at your local Masonic lodge asking if they could just “poke around a bit.”  This story in yesterday’s WaPo (while taking shot after shot at Dan Brown and his audience) details how even little places like Rosslyn Chapel Trust see an explosion in tourism based on their supposed (and by supposed I mean created for a work of fiction by a writer of fiction, but it sounds real) connection to the lost mysteries of Christ.  Where Professor Robert Langdon goes, so go the masses.

No doubt, there will be an increase to some of these probable locales (THANKS Matt Lauer!) and you’re likely to get some folks bugging you with stupid half right facts about secret societies for the next two years (just in time for a movie to come out and start it all over again), it doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun.  For your entertainment, here are some ideas for how to deal with tourists in search of a “Secret Washington:

1.) Stage an argument near one of these likely destination.   Have one person imploring desperately for help from another.  Just as it reaches a fever pitch, and just as your target is in ear shot, say “Will no one help the Widow’s Son?”   Then cast shifty looks all around, and sneak off together to go do something Masonic-y.

2.) Go on one of the inevitable tours that will blossom from this, and while looking at something old and mysterious (there is bound to be something), bend over and mutter “Oh my God..” just loud enough for others to hear.  Bring a little make-up brush and start dusting something carefully and say “Oh…it just can’t be!”  Feel free to exclaim “I found it” (specify it if you have read the above book and know something that could have been found) as you rush away from the tour.  Bonus:  Have two friends ready, dressed very neatly in suits, come “collect” you when you make your discovery.  Be sure to protest the entire time you are being escorted out-especially that the others “have a right to know!”

3.) Striking up a conversation with one of these folks, start to mention some of the “rumors” you’ve heard of hidden places in DC, full of “mystery” and “wonder.”  When they inquire as to where these places are, say you’ve only heard rumor (and maybe, saw on a map just once) of places tourists never get to see-places only referred to “NorthEast” and “SouthEast”…or was it “SouthWest”, you can’t really remember.  (And let’s face it, most of NE and SE are hidden, mysterious places for tourists despite some of the neat things they offer).

4.) When a Fan-Tourist (Foorist?) tells you something that is clearly wrong or made up from the novel, but wants to pass it off as half truth, say “pfft.  That’s not how it happened in National Treasure.”  If they press you that National Treasure was “just a movie”, well, I think you can figure out what to do from there.  (Side Note:  Why didn’t National Treasure create this kind of fervor?  Those movies were pretty fun!)

5.) Get some sidewalk chalk and just start writing stuff that sounds mysterious on the sidewalk like or “AOFACFSOA FSZWBEIC EIOA ZOHSFWQWOA OQQSDW” other things from the book’s twitter page. (note:  that might actually be illegal or considered defacing property-so be warned).

6.)  Introduce them to the people still in line at Five Guy’s and Ray’s Hell Burger from when President Obama went there.  Have them exchange stories of obsessiveness.

7.) Tell them “Walk left, Stand Right.”  Nothing to do with the book, but they are likely to be tourists.

Other suggestions?

The Last Kennedy Brother

Last Wednesday, we all woke up to the news that Senator Ted Kennedy had passed away.  He’d been in the Senate since the age of 30, serving the Bay State for 47 years.

Saturday, we all woke up to news-channel remembrances and the funeral being broadcast from the Basilica of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Boston before his internment at Arlington National Cemetery, next to two of his three brothers (the fourth, and eldest, Joe Jr. was killed in WWII and never recovered).  While I was watching, I decided to head down to view the procession as it went down Memorial Drive to the cemetery. I’d seen the Reagan and Ford funeral processions so making the trip down to ANC would just be keeping up my own little tradition. (Story continues after the jump.)

Waiting for the procession

Waiting for the procession

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In search of Rickey

rickey1I am now zero-for-two at ordering my favorite summer drink – the Gin Rickey.  Okay, that’s not technically true that; I had one at Gibson (14th and U) a few months ago which was quite delightful. 

However, I had two very similar experiences trying to get one of these at Sequoia in Georgetown (June 24) and Bar Louie at Gallery Place (July 2).  Here’s what happened:

  1. Order the drink
  2. Server takes order, then comes back and asks how to make the drink.  Recipe is recited.
  3. Server delivers what seems to be either a gin-and-tonic or a gin-gimlet-with-soda
  4. Recipe is reiterated, server disappears again
  5. Server delivers what seems to be either a gin-gimlet-with-soda or a gin-and-tonic (whichever wasn’t served earlier)
  6. Recipe is again reiterated
  7. Rickey is delivered!

And this a drink with a long DC history.  It was named for Colonel Joe Rickey, an infamous lobbyist, and what is more DC than that?  Only a year ago, the DC Craft Bartender Guild declared July as Rickey Month.  They’re dead easy to make — three ingredients — and are on the cocktail wiki, which I somehow assumed that bartenders in DC knew about.  Do bartenders not have recipe books or web access? 

Or maybe I need to stop going to chain establishments, eh?

Bicentennial Bash at Ford’s Theatre

Ford's Theatre new orchestra seating

Renovated Ford's Theatre

On Monday, February 16, the folks at Ford’s Theatre celebrated their Grand Reopening with a birthday bash for Abraham Lincoln’s bicentennial, and DC Metblogs was invited to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the sparkling new theatre.

Warren Brown prepares some CakeLove for Lincoln's Birthday Bash

Warren Brown prepares some CakeLove for Lincoln's Birthday Bash

The renovation took 18 months to complete.  The theatre itself was renovated and generally spruced-up with new painting, lighting, carpets, and seating; and a new lobby/museum/gift shop was added, with new restrooms and elevator access.

The experience starts with entry into the spacious new lobby, next door to the old box-office lobby which opened right from the seats to the street.  The new lobby has artifacts on display, including the coat that Lincoln wore to the theatre on the night he was assassinated (April 14, 1865).  It was made by Brooks Brothers, just for the President to wear, and has fancy shields-and-eagle stitching in the lining.  Neat!  Just beyond the display is the gift shop, which offers far more books than kitsch, I’m pleased to report.   (Kitsch can be found just across the street at the Old Town Trolley depot.  Trust me.)   And why not?  Lincoln is apparently the most popular subject of biography in the universe.  OK, maybe that’s a little strong, but he’s pretty popular.

For this special occasion, Warren Brown and the folks from CakeLove were on hand to offer Presidents’ Day patrons some of their delicious cupcakes as a complimentary grand-reopening  treat.  Since I was already getting pretty special treatment, I left my cupcake for another kid to enjoy.   (More on my visit after the jump.) (more…)

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Penny image from US Mint

Penny image from US Mint

DCist probably said it best:

The card’s in the mail. Our phone was broken. It just slipped our mind. Whatever the excuse, we failed to properly wish Abraham Lincoln a happy 200th birthday yesterday.

Yes, we here at Metblogs also neglected our 16th President’s 200th birthday!  We were obsessed with thinking about our own ideas for the upcoming three-day weekend, or remembering fondly the days when Lincoln and Washington each had his own holiday (oh, the 70s…), or — perish the thought — making Valentine’s Day plans.

Nevertheless, we want to wish Mr. Lincoln a happy birthday and we’ll plan to do some rootin’-tootin’ celebratin’ at some of the events around town, like the grand-reopening celebration at Ford’s Theatre on Presidents’ Day this Monday.

A Few Comments On The Inaugural Concert

We Are One concert courtesy of Flickr user Michael Foley Photography via Creative Commons

"We Are One concert" courtesy of Flickr user Michael Foley Photography via Creative Commons

Some of you may have noticed that my V-log of the Inaugural Concert never finished. As planned a large group of people (probably 20 of us) arrived at 19th & Constitution at about 5:30am. By that time about 200-300 people were in line, all of whom seemed to be fresh off the party. We waited in line until about 8am, the time that the gates were supposed to open, in the freezing cold. By that time, teams of army infantrymen and SWAT police were arriving and setting up camp along the perimeter of the National Mall and in the security tents through which every visitor would be required to pass. Another hour went by before the park opened, and pandemonium broke loose. Moving through the security tent was quick; all that was required to pass through was that our jackets be open and that our bags be placed on a table for a quick look by the personnel stationed there.

Waiting In The Cold courtesy of Flickr user afagen via Creative Commons

"Waiting In The Cold" courtesy of Flickr user afagen via Creative Commons

When the crowd exited the security tents it was a five minute dash across the Mall to the Reflecting Pool, where people rushed to the front and tried to stake their space. My group was in the front row along the barrier- our long wait was worth it. Throughout the morning, the area filled in all the way back to the Washington Monument. Everyone was literally shoulder to shoulder and tempers flaired occasionally when people tried to expand their space by sitting down and occasionally laying down. All in all it was a very boring wait between 9am and 11am, which was monotonous except for a few sound checks.

Unfortunately, one of the people in my party had a few unexpected seizures in a row just after 11. The army infantrymen and crowd control police nearby rushed in to help, parting the masses quickly and carrying him off hammock-style on a blanket. As they moved through the crowd towards the barrier, the crowd closed ranks so quickly that those of us who were with the friend with the seizure could not follow. It took us almost an hour to work our way out to Constitution Avenue again, stepping on a lot of people and starting a lot of heated arguments accidentally along the way. Once we had worked our way out of the crowd, we found a triage tent, where the medics on duty were helpful in pointing us to the Georgetown University Hospital, where our friend had been taken.

Photo courtesy of Alex Johnson

Photo courtesy of Alex Johnson

Those of you who were anywhere in the vicinity of the National Mall yesterday know that all the roads in the area were closed off by infantry units. A humvee was parked at each intersection spanning an area of at least five blocks in every direction of the mall and maybe more in some areas. Infantrymen in groups of four or more per intersection blocked off traffic and facilitated the massive amount of pedestrian traffic. Sufficed to say that getting to Georgetown University was a nightmare. From Constitution Avenue we made the trek through Foggy Bottom to the George Washington University Hospital. At first we wondered why our friend hadn’t been taken there, but it was explained to us that GW Hospital had been set aside as a mass casualty unit for the worst case scenario; I’m sure that Barack Obama would also have been able to find a bed if anything had happened as well.

Traffic finally resumed at Washington Circle Park (the intersection of K, Pennsylvania, 23rd, and New Hampshire). There we were able to hail a cab, but we sat in traffic for what must have been an hour on Pennsylvania and M. It turns out that our friend was alright. The seizures were determined to be random, and he is in the process of recovery in his own bed.

From the sound of it, the concert was unbelieveable. As we returned to Foggy Bottom late in the afternoon we were able to hear Barack Obama’s voice booming throughout the neighborhood. People were still streaming towards the Mall, though they were fighting the tide of those on their way out. Later in the evening I had the opportunity to watch the Concert on HBO, which turned out to be even closer up than the spot we had abandoned earlier in the day. Though that was a nice consolation prize, I still look forward to more success on Inauguration Day.

Obama To Pull An Epic Abe Lincoln

abe

"Lincoln Memorial (Washington DC)" by Flickr user ~MVI~

Obama will continue following the example of Abraham Lincoln; the two may be very different in terms of policy, but they match up pretty evenly in style. January 17th will feature a railway trip for the Obamas that will begin in Philadelphia and end in Washington DC. Like Lincoln, Obama will make stops for speeches and events in Philadelphia and Baltimore before arriving in the Capitol to begin Inaugural Festivities. One kick is that Obama will break from Lincolnian tradition by stopping in Wilmington, Deleware, to pick up Vice-President-Elect Joe Biden and family.

The Washington Post reports that the Obamas have not yet announced specific plans in any of the cities en route, but that city officials were making preparations for large crowds. Baltimore Mayor Sheila Jackson could call upon M&T Stadium, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, or Fort McHenry as potential locations for speeches by President-Elect Obama.

Once in DC Obama is expected to hold a major event on the National Mall, where he will appear in person on January 18th.

GW To Be Only University In Inaugural Parade

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The George Washington University will be riding a float built by students in the Inaugural Parade for the first time since 1949, when they participated in Harry Truman’s Inaugural festivities. The float is designed to encompass GW’s various schools and colleges. Among the attractions on the float are a twelve foot inflatable globe that will be rotating six feet above the Elliot School of International Affairs section, a live stock ticker in the School of Business Section, students building a mini-Baja automobile in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences section, and live filming of the crowd on to an LCD monitor in the School of Media and Public Affairs section.

All in all, a group of 40+ students and administrators will be riding the float, joined by family members of the alumni who rode the GW float sixty years ago. The idea of the float is not only to represent The George Washington University, which is central to the political scene, but to represent higher education as a whole; GW is the only university in the country that will build and ride a float in the parade.

The GW application to the Joint Congressional Committee for Inaugural Festivities was supplemented by enthusiastic letters of support from alumns Senator Harry Reid and Congressman Robert Wechsler. “The application process could not have gone more smoothly,” according to GW Student Body President Vishal A. Aswani. “The upcoming Inauguration will be a momentous national occasion, and students here are thrilled that The George Washington University will play such a central role in the festivities.”

Preview: American History Museum

In three days the National Museum of American History reopens to the general public. I was fortunate to tour the renovated building yesterday.

The first thing I notice as I step through the Mall entrance of the American History Museum is how light it is. A skylight brightens the three story atrium and the artifacts, like a home computer circa 1985, that line the walls in 10 ft. cases. A grand staircase constructed of metal and glass connects the first and second floors.

As I walk into the Selin Welcome Center, videos preview some of the events and special exhibits on the four flat screens as helpful volunteers provide maps and membership information.

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