Good times, good friends. That’s what life is all about. *
Pal Alex—whom I visited last weekend in Washington—was aghast when he discovered I had not only never been to Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street, but actually never heard of the landmark hot dog and chili tavern.
In my defense, when I lived in D.C., from 1984 to 1995, it was the heyday of Mayor Marion Barry, who was too consumed with prostitutes and toots up his nose than taking care of the city. That gang of mine in my 20s hung out in a few select safe havens, while I, as a burgeoning gay, knew Dupont Circle intimately. Despite the fact that U Street is in Northwest, back then it simply wasn’t an area frequented by skinny white boys.
All the same, Ben’s holds an astonishing place in Washington’s historic pantheon. CityStream.com offers that the restaurant endured the 1968 riots, a nabe overrun with drug dealers, 3-1/2 years with no passable street, all while still being frequented by some of the world’s most famous celebrities.
“Ben’s Chili Bowl is one of D.C.’s most legendary establishments, revered not only for its famous half smoke but for the way it has managed to operate as a no-frills, family-run neighborhood eatery since 1958,” the webbie reports. Back then, Ben Ali and his wife Virginia spent $5,000 to open the Chili Bowl at 1213 U St. NW, an area that known at the time as “Black Broadway.”
Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington and other musicians were regulars after playing in the neighborhood. In more modern times, Bill Cosby became a regular, visiting every time he passed through D.C., as well as Bono, Ellen Degeneres, Usher—and President Barack Obama, who, unlike his predecessor George Bush, actually spends time in Washington and soaks up local culture.
On Saturday, with 90 minutes to kill before I hopped the bus back to New York, Alex, Kristine and I soaked in the magic of Ben’s. I had a loaded chili smoke, while Kristine had cheese fries. Two words: fucking amazing. The place was absolutely packed, remarkably efficient, fun, quaint and the food… enough of a reason to return to Washington, in itself. This was absolutely a highlight of my entire three days in D.C. *
Before heading back to NYC from D.C. on Saturday, Caroline and her roomie Kristine snagged Groupons for Madame Tussaud’s in downtown Washington. With Alex and meese in tow, we admired our nation’s history with reverence and respect. *“You were robbed at the Oscars,” I assure a melancholy George Clooney, helping the healing with a gentle smoochie. Caroline swoons at Johnny Depp’s perfect eyeliner, conjuring Captain Jack Sparrow; Alex with a young, rather large-headed Mickey Jackson; Justin Timberlake, George, Angelina & Brad!
“Crack is whack,” Alex tells former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry; as Bill Clinton gives Caroline a little razzle with Hillary giggling along; and Alex doing same to LBJ. Tee hee.
My buddy Jackie Kennedy let me try on one of her minks as a rather stoic JFK wonders where Marilyn is.
Hall of Presidents: Zach Taylor sports some boffo hair; uh, wonder who that next one is; Woodrow Wilson looking rather dandy; Alex gets interrogated by J. Edgar Hoover; Tom Jefferson, sporting a fabulous little flip-do’ and Caroline with a surprisingly demure Winston Churchill.
Scary good… Michelle and Barack Obama, with pals Kristine and Caroline. These two were so realistic it was spooky.
Alex getting comfy in the Oval Office, as Kristine and I conduct a press conference for the Prez.
As an alumnus of James Madison University, I was stunned to see how lil’ Jimmy was.
This past sunny Sunday while in Washington, Alex, Caroline and her roomie Kristine and meese went to Eastern Market, D.C.’s oldest fresh food public market in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. I used to visit this joint when I lived in Washington, and it remains as charming today as it did 20 years ago. *
Like everywhere else, Washington, D.C., has a faint few remaining record stores. Melody Records on Connecticut Avenue in Dupont Circle, which opened in 1977, was a family-owned store that I frequented when I lived in D.C. even in the days of such giants at Tower Records. Now it joins its many brethren who can no longer weather the changing tide of music retail. *
While I was in Washington, D.C., over the weekend to primarily conduct biz with my bud Alex in his Fort Washington, Md., home, there was plenty of time for leisure. Back in November, I swung a deal on LivingSocial for a Megabus ticket for 50 cents round-trip(!).
First up: beverages at a couple outdoor cafes—as temps tipped the mid-60s. In February. What a blessed event that was. Next stop: Alex’s large two-story house, where he had a gift waiting for Caroline: a stuffed version of internet sensation Boo.
Alex’s digs are complete with two back decks, two fire pits and a brand new hot tub (which we indulged Friday). In the mean time, Alex showed me some of his theatrical tricks, such as… uh, setting his hand on fire.And what home would be complete without a vintage 1965 Mustang convertible, arguably the ultimate vintage Muscle Car of all time… I look right comfortable behind the wheel, I must say. Friday eve we were back in the city, where we met up with my longtime dear friend RoRo at gay straight-friendly hang Nellie’s, then journeyed to the beautiful 1905 tavern… Next up: The long-lived historic Eastern Market.