The Final Days of Texas Chili

Jimmy Cox, above, has owned P& P Restaurant, also known as Texas Chili, for 22 years. The restaurant's closure is a further winnowing of Falls Church's blue-collar culture.
Jimmy Cox, above, has owned P& P Restaurant, also known as Texas Chili, for 22 years. The restaurant's closure is a further winnowing of Falls Church's blue-collar culture. "This is the last one," said Cox of working-class bars. Below, the outside of the restaurant. (Photos By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
By Howard Parnell
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, February 23, 2006

Gray duct tape holds cracked glass together in the entryway of the P&P Restaurant in Falls Church, but it doesn't obscure the view from the longtime roadhouse as it enters its final days.

Looking across Lee Highway to Maple Street, one can't miss the mountain of dirt that stands taller than any nearby building, courtesy of developers who will soon erect a five-story assortment of condos, offices, stores, restaurant space and an arts center, where the Duckpin Bowling Center stood for decades.

In the next month or so, the P&P will be gone too.

"This here's been a family bar for years," said Jimmy Cox, the bar's owner, while nursing a Bud Light on his usual stool one recent afternoon. "This is the last one," he said of the bar.

Known to its regulars as "P's" and to passersby as "Texas Chili," from the sign bolted across its low-slung roof, the single-room bar and former gas station is slated to become a used car lot by the spring, the owner said.

Cox, 69, has owned P's for 22 years. His potent chili has won many accolades, just as his rough-hewn establishment has raised eyebrows. His lease recently expired and this time, he said, he had no opportunity to renew.

"I'm moving out," he said, looking around his dimly lighted domain. The aroma of his secret recipe wafts from the kitchen into the bar and mingles with the smell of stale smoke and beer. Two customers are having lunch. At one time, Cox said, the bar would have been filled with hungry workers. "What I got left in here," Cox said, "I guess I'll just leave."

P's sits at the top of Tinner Hill, where a rural branch of the NAACP was formed in the early 20th century in response to segregation. Across the street stands the Tinner Hill arch, commemorating the location's role in the civil rights movement. The arch was built in 1999 using pink granite originally quarried by the Tinner family, according to the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation.

There is nothing quite so historic about P's. No rare granite, just wood, shingles and pavement. Nor is there any concerted effort to save or memorialize the place. For now, it's a functioning relic; come March or maybe April, according to Cox, its time runs out.

Before Cox came along, P's had a reputation as a trouble spot. "This was a bad place, fights and everything," said Cox, who recalls breaking up more than a few.

That reputation proved hard to shake. David Eckert, a community activist and environmental filmmaker, recalls going into P's exactly once, a long time ago, and quickly heading for the door. Eckert, a member of the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation board and the local Village Improvement and Preservation Society, thinks of the bar's closure as the community's loss.

"The individual business isn't something I patronized," Eckert, 57, said. The bar's closure is further evidence, he thinks, that the city is gentrifying in a way some may come to regret. The same goes for the demise of the Duckpin Bowling Center, he said. "Where it used to be a town with people of different economic and social strata, as land prices skyrocket you're going to see less of that.

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