Posts Tagged ‘The Lincoln Theatre’

Two of the most well known murals in the city are located on either side of the iconic restaurant Ben’s Chili Bowl, located in northwest D.C.’s Shaw/Uptown neighborhood, next to The Lincoln Theatre, in an historic building at 1213 U Street (MAP).  The one on the east side of the building, entitled “Alchemy of Ben Ali,” depicts the restaurant founders, Ben and Virginia Ali.  But it is the other one that became controversial, leading to its removal.

In 2012, the Ali family commissioned its first mural with backing from the city’s graffiti prevention initiative, MuralsDC.  A few years later, however, public pressure to redo it started to grow as sexual assault allegations began to accumulate against one of the prominently featured people depicted in the mural – comedian Bill Cosby, who was accused and has subsequently been convicted of sexual assault.  Last year, the mural was first whitewashed, and eventually replaced.

The old mural featured local disc jockey Donnie Simpson, D.C.’s Chuck Brown – the Godfather of Go-Go, President Barack Obama, and Cosby.  Three of those men returned on the replacement mural.  Cosby, who had been a longtime friend of Ben’s, did not.

The newer mural, entitled “The Torch,” painted by D.C. muralist Aniekan Udofia, who also painted the original mural, celebrates D.C. history and black culture.  The mural depicts abolitionist and political activist Harriet Tubman holding a lantern that spreads light onto the other figures in the mural.  In addition to the three holdovers from the previous mural, those figures, who were chosen through a public voting process on the restaurant’s web site, are:  boxer and activist Muhammad Ali; former D.C. mayor-for-life Marion Barry; comedian and D.C. native Dave Chappelle; singer Roberta Flack;  comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory; actress and singer Taraji P. Henson; D.C.’s non-voting Delegate to the House of Representatives, Eleanor Holmes Norton; the late singer Prince; longtime local newscaster Jim Vance; D.C. rapper Wale; local radio disc jockey Russ Parr, and; former First Lady Michelle Obama, who now accompanies her husband.

But Virginia Ali, Ben’s widow, says the decision to repaint was based on the state of the mural alone, which she contended had become so soiled, damaged and weather-beaten.  Which means, years from now the mural may need to again be replaced.  So despite not making the cut for the current mural, I still have a chance.  I’ll just have to be patient and wait.

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Original Mural

The Whitewash

The Torch

         

         

         

         

         
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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Union Row

As with most large cities, there are a lot of alleys throughout D.C.  But some alleys are better than others, and they can vary as drastically as the neighborhoods of the city where they are located.  I often ride through alleys when I’m riding my bike.  But the alleys are usually there to simply to provide a narrow passageway between or behind buildings, or for off-street parking and storage space for trash cans.  But on this bike ride I happened upon an alley which had recently been renovated into some trendy living spaces.  And being able to imagine myself living there quickly made it one of my favorite alleys in the city.  Located at the corner of 14th Street and V Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s U Street corridor in the Shaw/Uptown neighborhood, the residences are known as The Warehouses at Union Row.

Union Row is a contemporary housing and business complex developed in 2007 by the P.N. Hoffman real estate development firm.  The Warehouses at Union Row were previously used for car storage, but were transformed into modern, industrial-looking three-level town homes that feature open floor plans with high ceilings and oversize windows to maximize natural light, and include private terraces on two sides of the home.  European kitchens with stainless appliances and granite countertops flow into spacious living and dining areas.  Additional amenities include a concierge, elevators, a courtyard, community meeting and party rooms, and off-street parking for cars (or bicycles).

The Warehouses at Union Row are within walking distance of the U Street Metro Station, and is conveniently located near a number of neighborhood cultural attractions.  These include the African American Civil War Memorial and Museum, the Howard and Lincoln Theaters, Meridian Hill Park, as well as some of the city’s best jazz clubs and dance halls, the 14th & U Streets Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings, and a wide variety of shops and restaurants, including Busboys and Poets across the street, and the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl.

As I wrote earlier, I could easily imagine myself living in one of town homes that make up the Warehouses at Union Row.  However, for two reasons I am fairly certain that changing my address to Union Row will not be happening anytime soon.  First, there are no units available at the present time.  And the other reason is because units can sell in the half a million to million dollar range.  So absent winning the Powerball lottery, I think there are a lot of other alleys I could wind up living in before I become a resident of Union Row.

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Ben's Chili Bowl

Ben’s Chili Bowl

September’s end-of-the-month restaurant review is of Ben’s Chili Bowl. A D.C. landmark restaurant, it is located in northwest D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood, next to The Lincoln Theatre, in an historic building at 1213 U Street (MAP).  Built in 1910, the building originally housed the city’s first silent movie house, named The Minnehaha Theater. Later, Harry Beckley, one of D.C.’s first Black police detectives, converted it into a pool hall.  A family-run business, Ben’s Chili Bowl was originally opened by Ben Ali, a Trinidadian-born immigrant who had studied dentistry at nearby Howard University, and his fiancee, Virginian-born Virginia Rollins. They were married seven weeks after opening the restaurant.  Today it is run by their sons, Kamal and Nizam.

From the unrest of the late 1960’s race riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., to the tough economic times in the 1970’s and 1980’s that resulted from the destruction of much of the neighborhood’s businesses during the riots, and finally to the revitalization and gentrification of the U Street Corridor beginning in the 1990’s, Ben’s has survived and seen it all. Over 50 years later, Ben’s remains as it has always been, right down to the red booths and bar stools and Formica counters, which are the original ones from when the restaurant first opened. Even Ben’s large neon “Home of the Famous Chili Dog” hearkens back to an earlier time.

Locals and tourists, as well as celebrities including Bill Cosby, Chris Tucker and Bono, and politicians such as President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, have flocked to Ben’s Chili Bowl for decades for its rich history, friendly atmosphere and delicious food.  A sign at the restaurant, however, notifies patrons that only Mr. Cosby and the Obama family eat for free.

The menu at Ben’s includes the traditional hot dogs and hamburgers and fries, as well as more recently added healthier choices such as turkey dogs and vegetarian burgers. But I must confess that I have not tried any of these offerings. It seems almost wrong to go to Ben’s and not have what they are most famous for.

Ben’s namesake chili is still made according to the original recipe, and comes complete with chunks of ground beef, green peppers and onions, and is filled with spices to tantalize your taste buds. The chili is available by the bowl, as well as how I prefer it – as a condiment for the hot dogs, French fries, and just about anything else on the menu. But my recommendation is to try “Bill Cosby’s Original Chili Half-smoke.” Originally made famous by Ben’s in 1958 and a favorite of Mr. Cosby’s since the early 1960s, it is a mouth-watering and juicy half-pork and half-beef smoked sausage, topped with their spicy chili, on a warm steamed bun. It is considered not only Ben’s, but D.C.’s signature dish.

Recently, Ben’s Chili Bowl has also expanded by opening a new restaurant and bar called Ben’s Next Door, in addition to outposts at Nationals Park and FedEx Field, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, and across the river in Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia. And although the food is the same, there is something about the original location that makes everything just a little bit better.  But don’t take my word for it.  You don’t even have to believe the prestigious James Beard Foundation, which named Ben’s one of the “down-home eateries that have carved out a special place on the American culinary landscape.”  I recommend that you stop by and try it for yourself.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]