Beat Diaspora: Beats, Buses, Bricks

an omnivorous take on music of the beat-based variety and the urban spaces that nurture it

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

50 Years of Half-Smokes


In a city short on homegrown icons -- because everybody, it seems, is from somewhere else -- D.C. quietly clings to the half-smoke as its only indigenous cuisine. And the city's best, or at least most stalwart, proprietor of half-beef-half-pork-half-Polish-half-smokes is Ben's Chili Bowl. It may sound questionable that a divey greasy spoon serving up the messiest, most ungraceful dish imaginable could anchor a neighborhood, but Ben's survived the 1968 riots that decimated "Black Broadway," the U Street corridor, and has been right in the thick of its since the neighborhood's (largely white) renaissance. In the dark days of the '80s, Ben's was about it for the birthplace of Duke Ellington.

As such, their 50th anniversary was not going to pass without notice. Between an outdoor street party last Friday -- 50 years to the day since they opened -- and a free go-go concert at the 9:30 club, not to mention a book launch, the half-smoke got its due.

I was particularly jazzed about the line-up of go-go heavy hitters: Trouble Funk, E.U., and Mambo Sauce. It's a damn shame I couldn't make it down for the afternoon and I haven't found any reviews posted, but getting all that for free, it's hard to complain. Go-go and half-smokes, that's D.C. in a nutshell.

I did my part to celebrate the anniversary, though. After Brazilian Rhythms, around the corner from 12th and U at 14th and T, I stopped by for a half-smoke smothered in chili. At 2 am, nothing else could have tasted so good.

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