Has Ben’s Officially Gotten Too Busy?

DSCN8366, originally uploaded by Prince of Petworth.

I’ve been hearing lots of folks talking about this lately. I went a few weeks ago at night (on a Thursday) and the wait wasn’t too bad at all. I mean Ben’s has always been crowded at times. But the last few weekends I have noticed that there have been huge lines snaking around the side during the day. I have never seen that before. So I have to pose the question – has Ben’s gotten too crowded to be a reliable dining/snacking option?

51 Comment

  • With all the dining options on U street, why would anyone wait in line?

  • I live a block away, and, ever since the inauguaration, its been ridiculous. A random weeknight might be okay, but forget about it on the weekends. I can only imagine what this summer will be like.

  • A line around the side for Ben’s? It’s definitely not THAT good.

  • I imagine a lot of it is residual Obama-related tourism. I imagine it will taper off eventually.

  • I think the better question is “Has Ben’s been overhyped” and that answer to that is “yes, since about 1994” and maybe earler, but that’s when I moved here and I wasn’t impressed then (or now). Not even my worst midnight munchies need that much grease + dog.

  • It has most definitely gotten too busy. Unfortunately that is both good and bad. Good for Ben’s, bad for us. I can’t really say where all the extra traffic is coming from, if it is local DC traffic or if it is tourists but Obama and all the food shows have definitely put them on the mainstream map. If it is local traffic well then that is just going to have to be a fact of life. We wait 2 hours to eat at Matchbox and now we wait to eat at ben’s as well. If it is tourist traffic then I think the perfect solution would be to open a new location near the mall. It would be perfect. Make it an almost exact replica of the original so all the tourists can go and say they ate at Ben’s while at the same time re-directing tourist traffic from the original. (this is something I think they should do anyway but what do I know.)

    Regardless, the good old days of catching a half-smoke after some fun on U street and not standing in line for it are over.

    Last I must go ahead and stop the haters by saying if you don’t like the style of food at Ben’s than that is fine. It is not going to win any culinary awards anytime soon, but don’t hate. I challenge anyone to find a more authentic half-smoke with chili anywhere. It’s just not going to happen.

  • Agreed with U. I live around the corner and reliably on weekend afternoons, the line is out the door. It’s been like this pretty much since the inauguration. I’m glad their doing good business, but for the boyfriend who’s a Ben’s fiend, it’s not quite the happy occurrence, gone are the days that he can just stop in for his 3 pm Saturday 6-inch chili cheeseburger sub.

  • Since the economy’s in the toilet, visits to many primary vacation destinations (NYC, Florida) have tapered off because of costs. That leaves places like DC, with all the free crap you can do on the Mall, a more attractive destination. Anyway, I refuse to wait in any line to give people my money. There’s always some place down the street with no line that’s willing to take it. And I always go to Bens on off hours and never have a problem.

    And if you want that authentic halfsmoke taste without the wait, pickup a couple of pounds of Mangers halfsmokes from Canales Meats in Eastern Market (they’ve got mild and spicy). Cook them low and slow so you get that signature sausage casing “snap” and the searing hot fat that burns your mouth.

  • $5 for what is pretty much a hot dog with chips is a ripoff.

  • With tax, it’s more like $6.50. But hey, you could always go to Ben’s Next Door and spend twice as much!

  • $7 domestic drafts at Ben’s Next Door is a bargain.

  • $5 for a hot dog with chips is a ripoff? Um … you know this is 2009, right?

  • Me and two friends went down to Ben’s for Opening Day this year. It was lunchtime. There was a line. But we were cool with sitting at the counter and got seats almost immediately after we walked in the door. The food was hot, the drinks were cold, the music was funky, and service was pretty darn good considering the crowd. One of the friends had never been there before and he seemed to enjoy his half-smoke and cheese fries from a DC institution. Sure, Ben’s is no high and fancy five star restaurant, it’s a diner for all intents and purposes and it does diner food well. We go once in a blue moon and that’s enough.

    And we also payed a fraction at Ben’s what we would have paid for the same stuff at the ballpark.

  • Rather go with one of those Subway $5 footlongs instead.

  • Need to open some Gray’s Papayas around DC.

  • Ben’s is pretty reliable on the turnaround; when it comes to service, lines move fast and the product is generally tasty and cheap.

    That said, I’m disappointed in the direction taken with Ben’s Next Door. Ben’s original has always evoked a spirit of the workin’ man’s chili dog and I was really hoping that Ben’s Next Door would follow suit with a nice laid back tavern style drink-up. Don’t get me wrong, I think Ben’s Next Door was very nicely set up, I would just prefer a little less improvised DC Chic and a little more of that warm welcoming atmosphere which welcomed me to Ben’s in the first place.

  • It’s definitely Obama’s fault. Now all the tourists want to go there. I’m sure it’ll die out soon enough, so I can get my chili burger and pink cake w/o waiting in line. I miss the days of just walking in and sitting at the bar.

  • Agree with the some of the posts – it’s just a hot dog. I am not a hater at all and have been to Ben’s several times, but if the line is out the door – then I just go somewhere else. It’s just a hot dog…

  • Dang – Monkey – now I’m going to be lusting for a “snap” of searing hot fat all day!

  • It’s sort of like how tourists in Philly flock to Pat’s and Geno’s for cheesesteaks. They’re both kinda sub-par when it comes down to it, but a nice local cultural treat for the out-of-towners.

    The problem with Ben’s is that it’s one of the only non-mall tourist spots right now in DC, and I’m sure every concierge in town is recommending it to people who want to soak up a local, non-fancy experience.

    If nothing else, it’s nice to get some of those out-of-District dollars into local businesses. I’m sure there are plenty of tourists who see the line and eat somewhere else in the neighborhood instead, or go shopping while their husband waits in line.

    Kinda reminds me of Pinks in LA.

  • If you get there early, ~6 PM on a weeknight, there’s no wait. There are definitely a lot of tourists checking the place out these days. The place was also featured in an episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations right around the inauguration, and I’m sure that’s attracting more people too.

  • If anyone has seen State of Play – that is another big Ben’s boost, Repeated scenes with Russell Crow and local people.
    I was down at HUD for my work and asked what part of the movie was filmed there (I had seen the filming activity on a Sunday) and they said it was used for the hospital settings because it looked clinical, but unlike a real hospital, it’s completely empty on weekends.

  • Glad I went there in December 🙂 ….and then slipped and fell on my face (drunk)

  • I’m sorry, but a halfsmoke is not “just a hotdog.” Is a dressed Chicago dog on a poppy roll with sport peppers “just a hotdog?” Is that first Fenway frank of the season “just a hotdog?” Is a chili slaw dog at the Varsity Grill “just a hotdog?” How about a Johnsonville “braht” that’s been grilled over charcoal with onions, green peppers, and has been simmering in a pan of Leinenkugel’s? These are all part and parcel of a cultural experience, a link with our collective past. It’s what makes us Americans instead of a balkanized ghetto of narcissists.

    Just a hotdog? I suppose your mother is “just some lady who pooped you out.” Just a hotdog indeed!

  • Angry Parakeet – yes, State of Play gave Ben’s a good extended scene (lots of fun “identify the DC locale” moments), so if the movie does well it will definitely boost the tourist clientele.

  • Who cares? Let the tourists enjoy their DC cultural experience. Tax dollars are GOOD for us. More tourists=more money=more annoyances for residents=residents just have to buck up. Do what I do: avoid touristy areas like the plague. Walk on the other side of U Street. Don’t take the metro on weekends. Etc.

  • I went there Friday night around 12:30 and didn’t wait more than 10 minutes. Went sometime last summer, around 2:00, and waited an hour.

  • The pic says it all. Valet parking for a hot dog (or half smoke or whatever you want to call it)? Ben’s has officially jumped the shark.

  • I have yet to meet anyone who actually likes the way Ben’s taste. I just don’t think it is good. I think its reputation is in someways based on the fact that for many people, the only time they eat at Ben’s is after a night of drinking. Anything is good at that point.

  • I think it shows how ridiculously lacking this city is in good, moderately priced food. Plenty of “expense account” dining options. Plenty of chicken and catfish and chinese carry out. Not enough GOOD stuff in between. Not enough ethnic neighborhoods, not enough funkiness, originality, interesting shit. D.C. is BORING food-wise.

  • Agree with some of the dissenters here – a Ben’s halfsmoke is not a hotdog. It is the closest thing DC has to “our food”, and it is damn tasty with chili, ketchup, mustard and hotsauce. And pink cake. Don’t forget the pink cake for the love of god.

  • Anon @ 9:23 – You’re not lying! A Gray’s Papaya would be awesome and would offer another hot dog option. (Ben’s does sell hot dogs too.)

  • One word: Tourists.

    The media hyped Obama’s visit, and if they go maybe Obama will show up. Fat chance of that happening. Like if you go to the Mayflower, maybe you will see a politician with a prostitute… oh wait.

  • I don’t go to Ben’s in the PM anymore, for many of the above-mentioned reasons. I love the half smokes, but if I have to wait longer than about 15 minutes its not worth it. HOWEVER, you gotta try the breakfast!!! I’ve been trying to pimp the breakfast at Ben’s for the last two years, but nobody else has been hearing me. Same great jukebox, plentiful seating, breakfast foods cooked on the same grill as the lunch stuff (for that extra meaty flavor – try the French Toast with a hint of half-smoke grease!). Plus, the prices are phenomenal…I usually get three pancakes as big as my head, a side of bacon that has to be at least 8-10 slices, three scrambled eggs w/cheese, and a large coffee – all for around $11. Can’t beat that with a stick!

  • Yep – I was just pooped out – thanks for the insult. Queue the “can’t you take a joke” comments.

  • New tangent: if McCain would have been President-elect, what spot in DC would have become the new tourist must-do?

  • I wonder if the new Arby’s will hurt their business?

  • Max – The Heritage Foundation and…that’s pretty much it.

  • You know who’s got a pretty good hotdog? Hard Times. Their foot-long chili dog is pretty tasty and, as far as chains go, they’re local, the food’s cheap, and the beer’s always cold. Dairy Queen’s gotta pretty good footlong as well. My butt is clenching just thinking about it.

  • Hard Times does have a great chili dog. I just ate their last night. It was cheap and delicious!

  • saf

    Please Monkey, if you MUST go to VA for your chili dog, the Vienna Inn wins.

  • DC needs a Hard Times and a Vienna Inn: cheap chili dogs, cold beer, no lines, zero attitude.

    Of course, when that happens, DC will need A LOT more toilet paper.

  • Damn I’m jonesing for a hard time dog with the cincy chili, cheese, and onions!!! Now that is a good chili dog!!!

  • Its always wierd when you thought as your neighborhood as being funky and now its a tourist destination. Its a good thing overall for all of us that own…..so please I hope the hype continues on Ben’s!! Remember to smile and be nice to the tourists, we are all one at some point!!

  • Every time I’ve gone to the Lincoln recently there’s been a line around the block. It is Obama-mania and I agree with the others. It may be a good half smoke but I’m not standing in a line like that. I had Geno’s cheese steaks last time I was in Philly and they were good, but I wouldn’t do that again, either.

  • OK the valet parking is definitely for Next Door, not the Chili Bowl. If that were true, I’d totally agree with you 2b3s, Ben’s would have jumped the shark.

  • U Street has jumped the shark. Maggie Moo’s. High priced condos. Crappy “tex-mex” food. Lots and lots of Virginians and Marylanders there every Thurs-Sat night.

  • I am a long-time Petworth resident and a DC native. I have never been a fan of Benś Chili Bowl. Itś never been more than a local greasy spoon to me, despite all the hooplah. Of course, Obamania is the reason for the crowds. It certainly isn’t the food or the service.

  • dude
    that shit is disgusting

Comments are closed.