After over 50 years of loyalty, an iconic Washington, DC, restaurant honored patron Bill Cosby in 2012 by painting his face onto a mural outside the diner.
Five years and a scandal later, Ben’s Chili Bowl has a new mural on display at its historic U Street location, and it doesn’t include Cosby.
The original mural included portraits of then-President Barack Obama, guitarist Chuck Brown and radio DJ Donnie Simpson alongside the comedian. The new version unveiled last week still features those three, along with over a dozen other prominent black figures.
Cosby is noticeably the only original subject left out.
Voted off by the public, not the restaurant
The entertainers, politicians and athletes that made the cut were chosen by voters nationwide in an online poll. The restaurant put together a list of names on its website for voters to choose from, including Cosby.
More than 50 women have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct since January 2005. Facing charges of aggravated indecent assault, Cosby’s case against one woman ended in a mistrial on June 17 after six days of deliberation.
But scrapping the old mural for a new one didn’t have anything to do with allegations against Cosby, a spokeswoman for the restaurant said. The original was whitewashed in January after the owners saw it starting to wear down.
“We did not do any type of protection layer on it, so we noticed last year that the paint started chipping off,” spokeswoman Vida Ali told CNN.
Artist Aniekan Udofia painted both versions of the mural. Voters chose former First Lady Michelle Obama to join her husband on the painting, as well as Muhammad Ali and Prince.
An ardent and faithful supporter
Bill Cosby’s longtime support of Ben’s Chili Bowl helped establish the restaurant as a local staple. He is the only customer besides the Obama family who eats for free.
“He was family,” Ali said. “He started coming to the Bowl from day one.”
Ben and Virginia Ali opened the restaurant in 1958. Bill Cosby became a loyal customer soon after when he began serving in the Navy nearby.
“He’s been coming since ’59, and he’s been the most ardent and faithful supporter all these years,” Virginia told CNN in 2013. “As he grew, he kind of took the Chili Bowl along with him.”
Cosby has been known to make appearances at restaurant events over the years. He hosted a national press conference at Ben’s in 1985, and he’s attended the restaurant’s anniversary celebrations.
Despite accusations against the entertainer and the publicity of his high-profile trial, the restaurant said it is not trying to distance itself from Cosby.