Ben’s Chili Bowl and Other DC Experiences

From Zaid ’14:

When not working in the kitchens, we have the privilege of exploring DC and acquainting ourselves with its myriad of sights, sounds, and tastes. Just yesterday, we visited both the Holocaust Museum and the National Gallery of Art. Today, we took a tour of U Street, the historic heartland of African-American culture in DC. Once nicknamed “Black Broadway”, the neighborhood is well-known as a center of the arts in Washington, alive with music and food just as it was over fifty years ago. It is also home to Ben’s Chili Bowl, the legendary landmark of U Street, and Bill Cosby’s eatery of choice. We stopped in at the Chili Bowl for dinner, and listened to the manager give a quick talk on the history of the establishment. While the area was engulfed in violent riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, the Chili Bowl remained open and served as a sanctuary for the community, standing above the ashes. The founders, Ben and Virginia Ali, have entered the DC Hall of Fame for their decades of service to their community at Ben’s Chili Bowl, which former mayor of DC Adrian Fenty called “one of the greatest treasures in the District of Columbia”.

We continued our self-guided tour of U Street into Meridian Hill Park, where unfortunately we could not witness the park’s signature cascading waterfall, as due to the frigid weather all fountains were shut off. However, we did get to see a grand statue of Joan of Arc, and a patterned cobblestone grid that seemed oddly suitable for a game of human chess. Kyle practiced being a gargoyle, and Anh went all “Assassin’s Creed” on the steps, which means he was running and jumping on everything, all the time. As the frost pressed on, we had to hurry our tour along, but not before we stopped off and picked up some goods at the gift shop by the Chili Bowl. All in all, it was a refreshing experience to take some time out of the kitchen to immerse ourselves in the rich history of the area. We then returned to the hostel and promptly settled into what became known as the “chili coma.” We will sleep well tonight, and prepare ourselves for a full day of service tomorrow.

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