Let the history books show that it was 11:15 a.m. on March 6, 2014, that the ribbon was cut, the crowd surged forward, and Washington institution Ben’s Chili Bowl opened its second outpost in Arlington County. Longtime fan Bill Cosby was there along with the Ali family, who opened the original institution on U Street in 1958, and hundreds of people from far and wide stood in the Colonial Village Shopping Center parking lot on Wilson Boulevard in Rosslyn to witness the historic event.
Politicians, Virginia Ali and her sons, and numerous half-smoke aficionados were on hand, where they learned that the new Ben’s plans to stay open until 4:30 a.m. every day/night. But Cosby stole the show, first with his explanation of why the Rosslyn location was chosen, and then heckling the other speakers in the 28-degree cold, wanting to get past the jabbering and on with the eating.
“The reason why this establishment has decided to open here is for me,” Cosby explained. “I’m 76 1/2 years old and I’m going to have my 77th birthday in July, and I am facing the fact that I can go any time I’m called. I am a man who put in four years in the U.S. Navy. (cheers) Therefore I am eligible for a military funeral. (laughs)”
He pointed in the direction of Arlington National Cemetery. “I want my body buried not far, so my ghost can get up, make the trip here instead of flying all the way over to U Street.” (big cheers) Cosby said he would round up various military ghosts from the cemetery. “So when you all are here after midnight, and you see a bag leaving but nobody with it…” He cited General Ben Davis and his father-in-law. “I will be eating with them, and we will be having a good time. Because in that cemetery that’s no cholesterol, there’s no triglycerides. Eat as many as you like. Double down on the cheese and the fries. A lot of people may not go to heaven, because this is heaven.”
Arlington Board Chair Jay Fisette was up next and lamented, “Who put me on stage after Bill Cosby?” He presented Cosby with a key to Arlington County, which Cosby promised to use immediately to park illegally all over the county. Fisette laughed and told him to explain that to the judge.
As other Ben’s fans, such as the ambassador from Trinidad and Tobago, Neil Parsan, [Ben Ali was a native of Trinidad] and others (Ben’s historian Bernard Demczuk, D.C. Chamber of Commerce CEO Harry Wingo, WPGC’s Shack of the Pack) kept up the speeches, Cosby began heckling and demanding an end to the stories. Finally, Cosby and family matriarch Virginia Ali cut the ribbon, and the eating was on.
Among the visitors for the historic event was Roach Brown of Washington, D.C., who said he patronized Ben’s before it was Ben’s, when it was a pool hall. Then he was a regular in the newly opened Ben’s, using it as an outpost to sneak into the Lincoln Theater next door. “This is my family,” said Brown, a DJ on WPFW-FM. “Mrs. Ali is the mother of the community.”
Kandyce and Ashley Martin drove up from Fredericksburg for the event, both to see Cosby and to have their first half-smokes. Kandyce Martin was considering having one despite being a vegetarian. They were duly advised on the best ways to eat one.
William Wilson of Alexandria waited patiently for his first Rosslyn half-smoke. No time was too early for one, he said. “Breakfast, lunch and dinner,” he said.