Ben’s Chili Bowl celebrates 60th anniversary by hosting a block party

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Ben's Chili Bowl celebrates its 60th anniversary by holding a block party. Photo courtesy of DC Police Department's twitter page.

By: Matthew Goldman

On Wednesday, Ben’s Chili Bowl celebrated its 60th anniversary by hosting a block party at the original U Street location at 11:00 am. Virginia Ali and her husband, Ben, who opened the establishment in the late 1950s, did many things for the neighborhood and community over this 60-year span.

Throughout its time in DC, Ben’s was an important establishment along the U Street corridor, especially in the 1960s and the civil rights era. The restaurant always offered a safe haven for people, regardless of background or perspective.  

Ben’s has a reputation for serving outstanding chili dogs and half-smokes. Today, it’s also known for wall art and murals. There are paintings of African-American icons on the side of the building, including Cathy Hughes, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Jim Vance, Donnie Simpson, and former President Barack Obama.

Ben’s has been featured in a variety of publications, and it has an extensive track record of attracting foreign dignitaries and celebrities to its establishment. 

What happened at the block party?

A huge crowd welcomed Ali and her family. Several prominent figures attended today’s ceremony, including singer Maysa Leak, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Mayor Muriel Bowser, Donnie Simpson, Tony Perkins, and the DC Council.

Furthermore, Bowser reflected upon Ben’s commitment to the neighborhood — saying Ben’s “invested in employing D.C. residents and families right here in DC.”

Afterwards, Mayor Bowser and Ali revealed the new street sign honoring Ben’s, renaming the 1200 block of U Street Northwest as “Ben’s Chili Bowl Way”. Mayor Bowser thanked Phil Mendelson and Brianne Nadeau, two members of the DC Council who were responsible for implementing the street sign. Mendelson and Nadeau shared their experiences with Ben’s, too.

“It’s an honor to present a ceremonial resolution to recognize August 22 as Ben’s Chili Bowl Day in the District of Columbia,” Councilman Jack Evans said.

During a tribute to Ali and her family, Jackson discussed how important the restaurant’s  commitment to the community in the civil rights era was. He called it a “landmark”. Ten minutes later, Jackson said a prayer with the crowd. In fact, he sprinkled in some political commentary, which was aimed at President Donald Trump. “Presidents come and go, but Ben’s remains,” Jackson said. He also preached this powerful message: 

Later today, a tribute to Ali will take place during the Ben’s Chili Bowl 60th Anniversary Celebration Gala at the Lincoln Theater at 7:30 p.m. Tickets costs from $60 to $150. All proceeds go towards the Ben’s Chili Bowl Foundation.