Ben's Revives Jelly Roll Morton's D.C. Connection
Last week's 50th anniversary bashes for Ben's Chili Bowl were a blast. From Bill Cosby's on-stage quips about the verve with which the servers at Ben's whap the chili onto the half-smoke, to Roberta Flack's still-distinctive stylings, to a gathering of the District's political elite in a tent behind the Lincoln Theater, Ben and Virginia Ali demonstrated yet again that their hot dog stand on U Street NW is the improbable cultural crossroads of the city.
Now comes blogger Mike Licht, whose wealth of info about Washington's past makes his NotionsCapital blog one of the city's most fascinating, with the 411 about the building next door to Ben's, a spot where the Ali family is about to open a somewhat more upscale version of their traditional eatery. At 1211 U Street, Ben's Next Door, as the new place is to be known, will feature Ben's food, plus a liquor license, for a more adult, clubbier atmosphere. And Licht reports that the new establishment will operate in a building that once served as jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton's own Washington club, the Music Box, where Morton was both a partner and an occasional performer.
Licht's plea for the new Ben's to serve jelly rolls isn't terribly likely to produce much change in the Ben's menu--the Alis, thank the heavens, are traditionalists. But it would be great to see some sort of tribute to the room's illustrious past put up on the walls, much as the Lerner family has lined the main walkways in Nats Park with documentations of baseball's history in the District. The story of the Black Broadway, as U Street was known in the early 20th century, is far too little known in this city, and great establishments such as Ben's and the Bohemian Caverns that occupy some of the landmark spaces leftover from those glorious times should take special care to pass along the names, faces and tales of a time before riots, before gentrification, before the seemingly inexorable march of the chain stores.
By Marc Fisher |
August 29, 2008; 8:45 AM ET
Previous: Leggett: The Audacity To Lead, The Folly Of 'Authenticity' | Next: 48 Years Later, A Singer Finally In Demand
Please email us to report offensive comments.
Posted by: Mike Licht | August 29, 2008 1:39 PM
Posted by: peter | August 29, 2008 3:43 PM
Posted by: Mike Licht | August 29, 2008 4:27 PM
Posted by: Mike Licht | August 29, 2008 4:33 PM
The comments to this entry are closed.