Ben’s Chili Bowl Has Big Plans

How about a specialty martini to wash down that half-smoke? Ben’s Chili Bowl, a U Street institution since 1958, is not immune to the gentrification taking place in its neighborhood. The Examiner reported yesterday that brothers Kamal and Nizam Ali—the sons of Ben’s founders Ben and Virginia Ali—have their hands on the former nightclub next door and plan to turn it into a second location with a lounge-y vibe and hopefully, a liquor license.

Goetz Architects—the firm that designed Central Michel Richard’s chic, blond-wooded dining room—has signed on to the project. Does that mean we should expect something sleek and upscale in Ben's yet-to-be-named next-door spot?  Not so fast. “The Chili Bowl is a classic – it won’t change,” Kamal Ali told me. “The new space will be something complementary. We’re slowly devising what we want to do with it.” The projected opening date: August of 2008, at the earliest.

In its half-century of operation, Ben’s Chili Bowl has never served alcohol—“it’s always been a family place”—but Ali hopes to acquire a liquor license for the new space, because “maybe you want a cold beer with your chili dog.”  Now that’s more like it.