Since 1958 Ben’s Chili Bowl provided Washington, D.C. with a place to call home, and a place to get the best chili in the country. Recognized as a destination spot for influential leaders and tourists, a hallmark of the civil rights movement, and a stalwart presence in the face of adversity over almost six decades, Ben’s Chili Bowl quickly became – and remains – a pillar of the local community. Help us celebrate the Ben’s Chili Bowl 59th Anniversary all this week!
A legacy of love and labor
On August 22, 1958 Ben and Virginia Ali opened the first Ben’s Chili Bowl on the U Street corridor in Washington, D.C. At the time the location became known as “Black Broadway” and performers like Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nat King Cole often made their way to “The Bowl.”
Martin Luther King Jr. frequented “The Bowl” and during the riots following his assassination Ben’s established itself as an influential member of the community pushing for equal and civil rights.
While most businesses closed due to the turmoil, Ben’s obtained special permission to stay open. Serving and providing shelter to activists, firefighters and public servants, Ben & Virginia, and the entire community stood up to adversity and shined as a beacon of hope.
59 Years and Counting
Ben’s Chili Bowl has become no stranger to conquering challenges. Looking back now, as we celebrate our 59th anniversary, despite harmful rioting and five years of construction to complete the Metro’s Green Line beginning in 1987, Ben’s Chili Bowl’s doors remained wide open.
In the 1970’s Ben’s fought through the influences of drugs in the area and, with the building of the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center, helped move the neighborhood in the right direction.
Thanks to the hard work of Ben & Virginia, and the success of Ben’s Chili Bowl, the city of Washington, D.C. recognized their efforts with a series of acknowledgements.
- The alley beside the original Ben’s Chili Bowl named “Ben Ali Way” – 1999
- Ben & Virginia inducted in the Washington, D.C. Hall of Fame – 2001
- Received the “America’s Classics” award by the James Beard Foundation – 2004
- Mayor Adrian Fenty presented Ben & Virginia the key to the city – 2008
The Community & “The Bowl”
After almost six decades of success and growth the second generation of the Ali family continues to make Ben’s one of the country’s best and most iconic restaurants.
The mutual appreciation between the community and the restaurant is obvious. Perhaps Virginia said it best, “We’ve been able to serve the community for 59 years and the community supported us too.”
Through the riots following Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination to the issues we still face today, Ben’s continues to offer a progressive voice and a comforting meal to anyone who stops in. While most people view Ben’s as having been there for the community, Virginia see’s things a little differently.
“The community has always been here for us and it makes me ecstatic to see so many people who love what we’ve been able to do for the community.”
As we celebrate our Anniversary on August 22nd, the late Chuck Brown would be celebrating his birthday, and so too does the Howard Theatre. With three Washington, D.C. icons born on the date, August 22nd is a “D.C. Legends Day” of sorts.
Join us this week and celebrate 59 years of Ben’s Chili Bowl and if you can’t make it out, get out to Costco and grab a pack of half-smokes to enjoy at home!