RIP: Ben Ali, Founder of Ben’s Chili Bowl

ben’s chili bowl, originally uploaded by aliciagriffin.

Sad news today about one of D.C.’s greatest:

Sad news for the District of Columbia: Ben Ali, the patriarch of U Street institution Ben’s Chili Bowl, passed away last night at around 9:00 pm. A family member said that Ali “passed peacefully,” noting that he’d had “health issues off and on.” Ali had just recently returned for a cruise with his wife, Virginia—the two were approaching their 51st wedding anniversary.

“He lived a full life and put a lot into the business,” said a family member. Asked whether Ben’s will close at any point in observance of the passing of its founder, the family member said a decision on that matter hadn’t yet been made.

Oh man. So, so sad. I wonder if Obama will comment?

DCist reports:

Ali, along with his wife, Virginia, had long since handed over control of the landmark eatery to their two sons, Kamal and Nizam, but his presence there continues to loom large. The chili, half-smokes, cheese fries and shakes that have made Ben’s Chili Bowl famous since it opened in 1958 are still prepared the same way today as they were when Ben and Virginia first started. Apart from its food, Ben’s Chili Bowl is most famous for being the only U Street business to have survived the looting associated with the 1968 riots.

I’m glad I got in there recently with LM… we were buzzing drunk and got out-of-our-minds excited when Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World” came on. Good times. Good food. Good place. Good man.

Sad day for D.C. residents and, as DCist put it, “lovers of half-smokes the world over.”

UPDATE: The New York Times blog Diner’s Journal just covered the death of Ben Ali, as did the NYT proper (people getting feisty because it was referred to as a diner):

There is perhaps no better way to end a punk-rock evening in Washington, D.C., than with a brisk walk up from the 9:30 Club to the bright lights of Ben’s Chili Bowl, home of the chili-laden half-smoke sausage, for a snack. (President Obama prefers it for lunch.) So it is with sad eyes that we report the death of Ben Ali, the Trinidad-born restaurant genius who founded the place in 1958. Order up!


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