Ben’s Chili Bowl Founder Dies: A Look At A Washington Institution

Ben Ali, founder of U Street institution Ben’s Chili Bowl, died today. He was 82. His landmark eatery served presidents, celebrities and many ordinary people. Photos of Denzel Washington, Danny Glover and Bill Cosby, among others, line the walls. Famously, two people are allowed to eat free there: Bill Cosby and President Barack Obama.

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Ben Ali accepts congratulations on the occasion of the Chili Bowl’s 45th anniversary on August 22, 2003.

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Ben’s Chili Bowl was packed full on its 45th anniversary. Besides the throngs of regular Washingtonians, Bill Cosby, Jessie Jackson and then-Mayor Anthony Williams attended.

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Then-President George W. Bush lends an artistic touch to a mural.

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Mayor Adrian Fenty drops by Ben’s Chili Bowl on August 24, 2007 for an event honoring WPGC radio host Donnie Simpson.

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Mayor Adrian Fenty chows down as he samples the offerings of a Ben’s Chili Bowl in the new Nationals Park.

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“Killing Me Softly With His Song” singer Roberta Flack entertained the crowds as Ben’s Chili Bowl made it to 50 on August 22, 2008.

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Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Bill Cosby also celebrated the big 5-0. No word on whether Cosby took advantage of his free meal.

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Then-President-elect Barack Obama ordered a chili half-smoke with shredded cheese on the side on January 10, 2009. Despite his free-eating privileges, Obama left $20 on a $12 meal.

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Then-President-elect Obama takes a big bite.

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Then-President-elect Obama and Mayor Fenty take time to pose with Washington police officers.

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