WASHINGTON, D.C. Forget about Presidential inaugurations. Don’t even think about a Million Man March. The first Washington Redskins home game doesn’t count. Nope. One of the biggest events of any given year hits the nation’s capital this Wednesday when that legendary D.C. eatery, Ben’s Chili Bowl, celebrates its 60th anniversary. Festivities run from 11 to 3 at the restaurant and 7:30 at the Lincoln Theater.
Ben’s is already well known for its tasty takes on the humble American hot dog. But at the same time, the restaurant’s charitable Ben’s Chili Bowl Foundation has become a Washington institution as well. It’s mission is to “positively impact and provide service to (the) community by giving back to the neighborhoods where (they) live and work.” All proceeds from Wednesday’s gala festivities go directly to Ben’s Chili Bowl Foundation.
Residents of Washington eagerly await the annual celebration. But it is not unusual for visitors to the city to plan trips around the massive block party as well. This festive occasion is typically not an event outsiders discover by accident. More often than not, attendees and patrons have at least heard about it well in advance of their arrival.
Even former President Barack Obama got into the act once when he stopped by to savor a Ben’s Chili Half Smoke.
Ben’s Chili Bowl is a Washington institution
So well known has Ben’s Chili Bowl become that it has been featured by countless local, national and even international television programs, newspapers and magazines.
It has also been seen in several major motion pictures including The Pelican Brief starring Denzel Washington.
For celebrity watching, Ben’s Chili Bowl is the place. In the past guests have ranged from Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. among others. More recently, French President Nikolas Sarkozy, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and other noteworthy political and sports figures have sampled Ben’s world-famous cuisine.
Other recent visitors include Dave Chappelle, Bruno Mars, Serena Williams, Chris Rock, Jimmy Fallon, Usher, Sara Jessica Parker, Chaka Khan, Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover just to mention a few.
But entertaining celebrities from all walks of life is not the primary focus of Ben’s Chili Bowl. Despite its global recognition and reputation, Ben’s still remains loyal to its roots. D.C. families and the local community continue as this institution’s top priorities.
It’s that simple.
Always an equal opportunity neighborhood restaurant
For six decades, Ben’s has served the people of the region and has embraced every guest, regardless of status, as family.
During the days of segregation, Ben’s was a refuge for all people without regard for race, creed or societal status. Backgrounds and differences in perspective only added to the melting pot community served by Ben’s.
Ben’s has always been a place where patrons can relax, eat, laugh and discuss world events as they see them. It’s a gathering place, a sanctuary, a haven for one and all. Everyone here enjoys the freedom of expression that remains so distinctly American.
When you arrive at Ben’s, you, too, become a celebrity. You are part of the mix, one of the gang with all rights and privileges of every other family member.
As for that Ben’s Chili Bowl Anniversary…
It all gets underway at 11:00 a.m. Wednesday with a press conference followed by Ben’s Block Party until 3 in the afternoon at Ben’s Chili Bowl, 1213 U St. NW, Washington, D.C.
Later at 7:30 p.m. at the historic nearby Lincoln Theater, there will be A Tribute To Virginia Ali. The event honors the co-founder of Ben’s who witnessed Civil Rights protests in the ’60s, met with celebrities on “Black Broadway” and earned the keys to the city.
In case you’re not in on the story, Ali and her husband Ben began their journey back in 1958. Before long, black entertainers who were performing in the 14th and U Sts. NW district once known as “Black Broadway” began hanging out and eating at Ben’s.
Over the years since, the establishment garnered countless awards, including the “American Classic’s Restaurant Award” from the James Beard Foundation in 2004.
So when Wednesday rolls around, the D.C. city government will shut down (figuratively not literally) to honor Ben’s Chili Bowl. You’re invited.
And remember: you will never get a “chilly reception.” Just a “chili reception” at Ben’s landmark dining emporium.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe