Ben's Chili Bowl on U Street NW, Washington. (Jeffrey Porter/For The Washington Post)

Can Washington go a whole week without Ben’s Chili Bowl?


The city’s hiatus from the high temple of the half-smoke, which was caused by plumbing work, began Monday. And already there are signs that locals and visitors are going through withdrawal. Tourists have been found wandering the sidewalk out front. Post-kegger co-eds have pressed their faces against the darkened windows in disbelief.

Who can fault them? The U Street institution is open from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. most weekdays and stays open until 4 a.m. on Fridays. It is closed for two days a year, Thanksgiving and Christmas, and is famous for staying open during the 1968 riots.

The sense of deprivation might have been more acute if not for Ben’s Next Door, the more upscale eatery and bar that Ben’s owners, the Ali family, operate adjacent to the Chili Bowl. Ben’s Next Door offers some Chili Bowl staples but at higher prices.

But Ben’s will be better for the break. Some of the pipes date to 1910, and to the Chili Bowl’s previous incarnation as the Minnehaha Theater, a silent film palace, Sonya Ali said. Over the new pipes will be a new floor that customers can admire as they make their way in line to the counter.