Every main street needs a Ben’s Chili Bowl

In addition to the new and exciting restaurants and shops (eg the CakeLoves) that can spark a downtown revival, you need the neighborhood institutions, the ones that withstood the riots, the mass exodus to the burbs, urban renewal and the relentless unpredictability of keeping a restaurant open. Why? Because it not only provides a sense of history and place, but a sense of security that the same people have been in the same place for so long.

Easier said than done, but Ben’s Chili Bowl, serving the city’s best chili for over 40 years, is just that. It opened in 1958 on what was a thriving “Black Broadway” in Washington DC’s 14th and U neighborhood, serving the likes of Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole, Redd Foxx, Dick Gregory, Martin Luther King Jr., or Bill Cosby at �the Bowl.� Now that’s history.

That history has been further preserved two ways: the city renamed an adacent alley, Ben Ali Way, after the founder (retired); and Ben’s wife, Virginia, still works the counter with her two sons, who now run the business.

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