By Matt Schudel, Washington Post: If the rest of the world sees Washington as a place of large monuments
and gleaming public buildings, many of the people who actually live in
the city build their lives around smaller, more humble institutions.
For them, one of the most important addresses in town is Ben's Chili
Bowl, a simple diner famous for its down-home menu of chili,
half-smokes and fries.
Ben Ali, who founded the restaurant in 1958 and created its
unmatched chili recipe, died Wednesday of congestive heart failure at
his home in the District. He was 82.
His family-run diner on U Street NW has been one of the most
enduring institutions of Washington, a place where families meet after
church and where night owls come to talk, flirt and, not least, eat.
The landmark eatery opened when U Street was the city's glittering
"Black Broadway," a strip of nightclubs and theaters that catered to
Washington's black middle class and helped define the city's pulse and
taste. It became a steadfast symbol of Washington's perseverance
through good times and bad, feeding the dignitaries who came to
Washington as well as the ordinary folks who call the District home.
In a statement, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty called Ben's Chili Bowl "one of the greatest treasures in the District of Columbia."
On Jan. 10, the restaurant received perhaps its
greatest publicity boost when Fenty and president-elect Obama dropped
by for a half-smoke -- a smoked sausage that is often called the
signature food of Washington. Mindful of a sign that warned, "Who eats
free at Ben's: Bill Cosby. No one else," Obama paid for his $12 tab
with a $20 bill, leaving the change as a tip. The president's name has
been added to Cosby's as the only patrons allowed to dine without