Ben's Chili Bowl is not on the 42 bus line. But, it's one of the best eats in the city, and one of the only places you can enjoy a good meal and not have to think about ordering drinks with your meal. You still have to deal with the inebriated young people on the weekends, but for the most part, Ben's is a fulfilling, safe, wholesome option for a meal.
Now, according to the Washington Business Journal, the Ali brothers who own the restaurant want to expand the operation into the building next door, which they own. The new site would offer some relief for Ben's which is packed for many lunches, most weekend evenings, and whenever a tour bus decides to pull up to the front door. I usually eat at the bar, but have been in a couple of times when there weren't any seats except for in the very back in the newest added room. The current building is an old theater and has a unique layout which is narrow, but deep.
In addition to adding more seating, the Ali brothers want to create an entirely new venue out of the new space. The general idea is a martini bar, with boutique and specialty beers. Part of the setup may involve a special Ben's brew, made locally. The ball is rolling on the project; the alcohol permit has been approved and the owners are looking to be done with a build-out of the new space by this fall/winter.
Not sure yet if I like the idea. I know Ben's was a nearly put on life support after its value assessment tripled and the tax bill rose accordingly a few years ago. U Street recently hasn't been as friendly to traditional, family owned, local businesses. Newer businesses seem to be upscale restaurants, high end furniture stores and high couture clothing boutiques. Ben's has to keep up with the Jones' so to speak. But I hope the new venue is part-and-parcel separate from the original Ben's. I'd like to see the original Ben's remain intact and have the new venue be a completely separate entity. Ben's should be preserve as the small, family owned, food focused restaurant. Let the new venue make it or break it on its own.