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Bar Review: Ben’s Next Door

Submitted by on June 6, 2010 – 1:52 PMNo Comment
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1211 U St.
Washington, DC

Hours of operation: Sun. – Thu. 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 a.m.
Fri. – Sat. 11:00 p.m. – 3:00 a.m.

Best time to visit: Happy Hour; any time. Beer. Chili.

That would be plenty, especially if it’s really good beer and chili. But lots of other good food, tons of personality and history, a friendly crowd and staff, and enough flat-screens to follow whatever you like as you sit bar-side – now we’re nearing mythical status. And there are Happy Hour specials on top of all that.

The food originated next door (as the name implies) at the very, very famous Ben’s Chili Bowl – a truly legendary U Street establishment which has drawn visitors ranging from Carla Bruni to the Obamas, from Miles Davis to Martin Luther King, Jr., and many others in the last 50-plus years. But an even more diverse menu can now be found Next Door, including crab cakes and some excellent dry-rubbed ribs (a small plate of which can be had during Happy Hour for five bucks).

The atmosphere here is relatively formal – compared to the diner-like chili dispensary one door down, which generally has a line for seats at the counter and a line to pick up for take-out.

But Ben’s Next Door is still a bar & grill, and jacket and tie are certainly not required. But nor would such attire seem out of place in the elegant, dark-wooden dining area, which extends well back from busy U Street.

It’s true – a bar on U Street next to a place that sells good, cheap chow until past bar-time on weekends may sound like a disaster waiting to happen. How many rowdy young folks, after a night of debauching, will grab a chili dog and then decide one more drink would be just the thing? And yet, though they might be heard outside on a weekend night , the really obnoxious drunkards are not likely to get through the door. Ben’s Next Door, like its parent next door, is at once homey and classy – albeit in very different ways.

A nice range of a dozen draught beers are on hand, including Newcastle, Peroni, Stella, and the intriguingly-fruity Purple Haze, from Abita. Delirium Tremens, the zesty, killer Belgian strong ale, is also on tap. Not surprisingly, it is not among the beers offered for $3 during Happy Hour. But most of the twelve draught beers are, and the DT and the Guinness are only $5 from 4 to 7. Factor in some good food and a few appetizer discounts, and Ben’s Next Door can truly stand on it own. But it doesn’t have to.

Ben’s Chili Bowl is a vital pieces of the U Street puzzle; an important, constant community center. Now Ben’s Next Door expands that role. In addition to music at least once or twice per week, various community events and even live radio broadcasts take place regularly Next Door.

There are cheaper places, there are wider tap selections, and there may even be better food at some bar somewhere.

But Ben’s Next Door ranks high enough on those and other fronts to merit a thorough exploration.

Pros: Food; Location; Atmosphere

Cons: Can get crowded

Rating: 4.5/5