Ben's Chili Bowl set to expand


Open since 1958, classic landmark Ben's Chili Bowl has been one of the constants in an ever-changing U Street neighborhood. But now even Ben's has decided to adapt.

The dive restaurant is opening up a second location just next door, where a nightclub called The Casbah used to be, according to Thomas Hart, general counsel for D.C. firm Group Goetz Architects, which is designing the interior.

"It's going to have the casual flavor and the ambiance of a lounge," Hart said.

The 3,000-square-foot building will include a long bar, just like the former nightclub, booths and other seating. It will apply for a liquor license and feature a different menu than Ben's, but the same late hours. The location could potentially feature live music and showcase local artists.

The new location is the brainchild of Kamal and Nizam Ali, whose parents founded Ben's. There is no name right now for the new branch of Ben's, but the owners are considering holding a naming competition for it.

The final design for the place is still being finalized, Hart said. Demolition of the interior has already occurred and the project is being fast-tracked to open by the end of 2008.

Ben's Chili Bowl counts among its past and current patrons Ella Fitzgerald, Bill Cosby and Miles Davis. It's one of the oldest continuing businesses in the neighborhood and a pioneer of D.C.'s signature food, the half smoke, a type of hot dog.

Group Goetz Architects is the firm behind the interior of Central Michel Richard, as well as a number of law firms and restaurants in D.C. and elsewhere.

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