While most visitors flock to Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street for its signature half-smoke sausage, the beloved Washington, D.C., landmark also boasts a spectacular mural that celebrates notable African-Americans.
The mural has been changed multiple times since it appeared in 2012, and previously featured a large, smiling Bill Cosby, Barack Obama, Donnie Simpson, and Chuck Brown. That portion of the mural was removed after allegations against Cosby, who was a famous frequent visitor to Ben’s Chili Bowl, came to light. For a short period of time in 2017, the mural featured a tribute to the Washington Wizards in time for the NBA playoffs. Then, later in 2017, local artist Aniekan Udofia painted the mural that stands there today.
Washington, like many other major U.S. cities, has been pushing for the creation of murals to prevent graffiti and gang tagging. This is especially present around U street, home to lots of D.C.’s most famous murals. What make’s Ben’s Chili Bowl’s mural special among this abundance of art? Its sheer size, vibrant colors, and connection to the historic restaurant.
Now a D.C. fixture with multiple locations, Ben’s Chili Bowl was founded by Ben Ali in 1958. The original store quickly became an essential part of the U Street community. Throughout the years, the store has hosted a wide range of celebrity guests, from Barack Obama to Ella Fitzgerald. What is probably most interesting about the history of Ben’s Chili Bowl is that during the 1968 Riots, unlike other businesses, Ben’s Chili Bowl was able to stay open after curfew, feeding protesters and police alike.
Today’s mural features a wide variety of famous African-Americans, many with ties to Washington, D.C., to honor the city’s rich history of black culture, including everyone from comedians and actors (Dave Chappelle, Taraji P. Henson) to abolitionists and politicians (Harriet Tubman, Barack and Michelle Obama). It also comments on the city’s connection to African-American music via sound waves and speakers.
This visual landmark is best experienced with a chili half-smoke in hand.