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Columbo's Chili Habit

"We have found that many of the people who like hot foods tend to be a little more outgoing than those who do not. They like traveling, wearing colorful clothing, meeting new people, and trying new things. Perhaps eating chile peppers is the culinary expression of an adventurous spirit and a fun-seeking nature."

( Excerpted from The Healing Powers of Peppers, by Dave DeWitt, Melissa T. Stock, and Kellye Hunter )

It is established very early, in one of the "Columbo" pilot movies,  that Columbo is a dedicated chili-head.

Although chili is made in many parts of the world, a large number of people in the USA regard it as the essential American food -- adventurous, yet accessible
to everyone and enjoyed most by the average slob. 

Yes, we know that chili is a gourmet delight with a thousand subtleties.  But more to the point, it is a sloppy mess that spills on your clothes while you
eat it, emits a strong smell, gives you indigestion, wakes you up, sometimes gets you in trouble, and tends to make people around you get nervous.  Chili is the "character food" of Lieutenant Columbo.

How Columbo Takes His Chili

Columbo eats chili every day of his life, but he would staunchly deny that he eats the same thing every day:  Actually, Columbo orders chili with beans, AND chili
without beans, on alternate days -- for "variety."

Barneys Place

Columbo likes his chili with salt, a little ketchup, and most importantly, with a huge fistful of saltine crackers crushed into it.  He seems to enjoy the ritual
of crushing the crackers and stirring them into the bowl, and he explains: "Y'see, it's the crackers that make the dish." Ransom For A Dead Man

Barneys Place Barneys Place

Columbo's taste in chili runs to the strong, aromatic and a little dangerous.  In Rest In Peace, Mrs Columbo, the waitress warns Columbo that the chili has been aged:  "Let me know if you see anything movin around in that chili, Lieutenant. It's from Wednesday."  Columbo, delighted, tells her "That's the way I like it!"  Another cop, sitting nearby as Columbo dives into his chili, says "I can smell it from here."

He apparently likes it hot, spicy and authentically Mexican.  Columbo storms out of his favorite chili joint when he learns that the Mexican cook was replaced by a German guy.

Columbo's wife tells him that the chili is going to kill him, and Columbo admits that she's probably right. Rest In Peace, Mrs Columbo   And there are signs that the chili is starting to catch up with him, as by 1990 he is taking medication to lower his cholesterol. Columbo Goes To College

But there is no sign that Columbo will ever give up eating chili.  Like the raincoat and cigars, like the car and the dog, eating chili is part of what makes him Columbo.   Would Popeye give up his spinach?

Columbo's Chili Joints: "Barney's Beanery" And More

Columbo has favored several different chili joints over the years, but he keeps returning to "Barney's Beanery", the place where we first saw him chowing down on chili in the second "Columbo" pilot movie, Ransom For A Dead Man

Chili Chili

"Barney's Beanery" is in fact a very real place.

Located on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood,  the legendary Barney's Beanery is a three-room, roadhouse style  bar/restaurant/pool-room that has been a Hollywood staple since the 1920s.  Barney's is a true haven for hard-core chili buffs, offering 40 different recipes of chili, plus 140 kinds of hamburgers, dozens of beers on tap and hundreds more brands in bottles.

It's a good size institution, seating 150 to 175. Barney's has been known to feature "Lingerie Night" on Thursdays and, more important to Columbo, patrons
can play pool in the back.

Barney's Beanery  has a rich history, and many celebrities have sampled Barney's famous chili. 

Barney's was one of Jim Morrison's favorite hangouts, in part because the Doors' offices were only a block away.

Another Barney's regular was Janis Joplin.  According to legend, one night she smashed a bottle of Southern Comfort over Jim Morrison's head there. On the night of October 2, 1970, Janis drank at Barney's with her band, then retired to her room at the Landmark Hotel, where she fatally overdosed on heroin.


Barney's Beanery was further immortalized in 1965 as the subject of a sculpture by   Edward Kienholz (1927-1994).  Kienholz is highly regarded for his sculptures depicting decrepit individuals on the fringe of society (like Columbo?), and his vision of "Barney's Beanery" has been called one of his more poignant works, said to portray "the sadness and inevitability of death".

By tradition, Barney's has always been friendly to cigar smokers, no doubt another attraction for Columbo.  But times are changing, and recently Barney's hosted a mass smoke-in, defying new laws that ban smoking in bars and restaurants.  Comedian Drew Carey was among the cigar-smoking protesters at Barney's, declaring that the law is "insane" and that "protesting is fun -- I may do it again, if I don't get arrested." 

Barney's was fined $100.00 as a result of the incident.  And the legend continues.

People from all walks of life may be found at Barney's Beanery, all drawn to the lethal chili and the authentic roadhouse atmosphere.  It is not too surprising that we should find Columbo there.

Ransom For A Dead Man Season:1, Episode - Pilot

Ransom Chili

When we first see Columbo enjoying the chili and pool at Barney's Beanery,  the proprietor is Burt, a friendly, rough-looking fella whose grin reveals a conspicuously missing tooth.

Ransom Chili

Burt tells him: "You know what's your trouble? You don't have much imagination....You always look at the menu, and you always order chili."

Columbo: " I'll have the chili."

Burt: "See what I mean?"

Columbo: "Well, look at it this way, you'll never be disappointed."

Dead Weight Season: 1, Episode - 3

Dead Weight Chili

In "Dead Weight," Columbo is still getting his daily chili fix from his old buddy Burt, but the chili-parlor is different.

Dead Weight Chili

Burt's new  place is a real dive -- small, dark and greasy-looking.  Oily stains cover everything from the walls to Burt himself, who cleans Columbo's spoon by blowing on it. Maybe in better days it was patronized by celebrities, as it's
decorated with  crooked black-and-white photos of women who look like they might be actresses from the 1940s.  There are no customers but Columbo.

Dead Weight Chili

"It's the best in town, y'know," says Burt

Columbo and Burt enjoy an easy-going friendship.  Burt invites Columbo to play pool, and when Columbo goes fishing, Burt offers to trade him fish for free chili.

Burt's war stories and memorabilia inspire Columbo to discover the key clue in the case -- General Hollister's sentimental attachment to his wartime weapon.

The Greenhouse Jungle Season: 2, Episode - 2

Greenhouse Chili Greenhouse Chili

In "The Greenhouse Jungle," Columbo has moved on to a different diner, decorated with amateur paintings of covered bridges.  The place has an outdoor counter where Columbo can eat chili amid the traffic noise.  He's a regular patron there, and still in the habit of ordering chili night after night:

Greenhouse Chili Greenhouse Chili

Q: "How do you want your chili, Lieutenant -- with or without beans?"

A: "Last night I had it with beans?  Have it
without beans... Variety!"

Rest In Peace, Mrs Columbo Season: 9, Episode - 4

Rip Chili

Many years later, we find that Columbo sometimes takes his chili habit to another diner, which he now regards as the best in town.

Columbo: "This place makes the greatest chili - it's simply fantastic."

Rip Chili Rip Chili

Brady (very dubious): "I can smell it from here."

Columbo: "I'll order you a bowl."

Brady: "No thanks sir, I'm....on kind of a diet."

Unfortunately, Columbo's patronage does not last -- the place fails to maintain Columbo's exacting standards.

Columbo: "This stuff is terrible. They changed the recipe for the chili!   Gracie, what happened, ya lost the chef?"

Waitress: "Chef ????"

Columbo: "Rama, the big guy -- he had one brown eye, one blue?"

Waitress: "He went back to Mazatlan two months ago.  We got a new guy back there,... Heinrich."

Columbo (throwing down his napkin and stomping away): "Heinrich! You got a guy named Heinrich to make chili?? ... C'mon Brady,  I gotta walk this stuff off."

Uneasy Lies The Crown Season: 9, Episode - 5

Crown Chili

"Uneasy Lies The Crown" introduces the versatile John Finnegan as Columbo's new chili-meister, serving Columbo at an outdoor table.  Actually Columbo isn't having chili that day, since he has just come from the dentist, but Finnegan
(seems his name is Fred here) provides crucial inspiration by sneezing unhealthily into the food and discussing his time-release cold medication, which turns out to be the key to how the murder was committed.

Columbo gets some of his best clues at chili-parlors.

It's All In The Game Season: 11, Episode - 1

All in the game Chili

"It's All In The Game," written by Peter Falk, brings Columbo back to the classic Barney's Beanery, now operated by Barney himself (John Finnegan).

All in the game Chili

The place is still based on the real Barney's --  the exterior view is always a shot of the actual landmark beanery -- but the interior has been revised, with a more open and rustic look.

All in the game Chili

Barney and Columbo sit down for a long talk about the case.  Barney shares his sharp human insights and philosophy, and gives Columbo useful advice.  Columbo asks, "Since when did you become a psychologist?", and Barney says "It goes with owning a restaurant."

All in the game Chili

Columbo apparently regards the place as a bit dashing and romantic, as he meets Faye Dunaway there for a dinner which is something between a "date" and an interrogation.  Barney ushers them to a special table in the kitchen, so that they can enjoy a drink with dinner.

Strange Bedfellows Season: Special, May 8 1995

Strange Bedfellows Chili

Again we find Columbo getting chili and opinions from John Finnegan.  The place isn't openly identified as Barney's, but Finnegan reminds Columbo that he's been eating chili there for the past nine years.  The inside decor  is
gleaming white and quite modern looking, so if it's Barney's,  the interior has undergone a facelift.  Somehow the new look doesn't fit Columbo or Barney, and is not destined to last long.

Strange Bedfellows Chili Strange Bedfellows Chili

A Trace of Murder - 25th Anniversary Season: Special, May 15th 1997

Barney's Beanery returns for the second episode in a row, its interior mysteriously restored to the natural wood appearance that it had when  Columbo dined there with  Faye Dunaway.

Trace Chili Trace Chili

Barney's plays an important role here, as the place where Columbo gets his biggest insight to solving the case, observing the two conspirators as they have coffee.  Our last look at Columbo in this episode has him happily puffing on a chomped-off cigar, as he walks up the steps into Barney's Beanery, .

This episode marks John Finnegan's fourth apearance as Columbo's main chili man, making him one of the show's most frequently recurring characters -- a solid clue to the ongoing importance of chili in "Columbo".

Columbo's "Chili Moments"

Here are some favorite scenes featuring Columbo and his chili.

Publish Or Perish Season: 3, Episode - 5

Columbo interviews a couple of elegant people in
a very fancy restaurant, and is invited to order

Publish Or Perish Chili

After studying the menu, and not finding what he wants, Columbo says he wants "something a little bit more with body."  He asks if the chef can make him some chili -- "with beans, without beans, either way... it doesn't make any difference."

Publish Or Perish Chili

The waiter is horrified, and so rattled that Columbo has to ask him twice for "a little ketchup" to put in the chili.  The waiter scurries away before Columbo can even tell him that he also wants some saltine crackers to crush into his food.

Publish Or Perish Chili

When the chili comes, Columbo consumes it rapidly, shoveling chili into his mouth as he talks. Then he insists on paying his own bill.  Columbo is sure there has been some mistake, as he is charged the shockingly high price of  six dollars for chili and iced tea.  Clearly there must have been some error. (There was -- the waiter forgot to add 75 cents for the iced tea.)

Trivia: - Sent to us by Neal Silverman

Columbo's waiter (Maurice Marsak) is the very same waiter who appeared in a 1956 episode of "I Love Lucy",  expressing the very same shock at Lucy's eating habits.  Lucy is dining at a sidewalk cafe in Paris, and she orders the escargot, not realizing what it is.  Lucy is dismayed to get a plate of snails, and tries
to cope by choking it down under ketchup.  The waiter has never even heard of this crude condiment, then after working out the translation, he begs Madame
not to put ze "sauce tomate" on ze escargot.

"Publish Or Perish'" repeats the waiter's incredulous reaction when Columbo, like Ricardo, asks for ketchup, leading us to wonder -- could it really be a
coincidence that Maurice Marsak was hired to play the waiter?  Or, is "Columbo" having a little fun with this "inside" reference to  "I Love Lucy" ?

Who knows? But Peter Falk himself was a veteran of Desilu Productions.

Swan Song Season: 3, Episode - 7

Columbo is always looking to score some free food, from a few crackerloads of caviar to entire gourmet meals.  Even a dead man's reggiano cheese isn't safe
around Columbo.

In "Swan Song," while waiting to speak to Johnny Cash at a garden party,  Columbo seizes the chance to  sample the free chili.

Awan Song Chili

We see the changes of expression on Columbo's face as the chili's flavor hits him -- Peter Falk's acting here is subtle, yet hilarious.

Columbo is too polite to describe the taste.

"Say, that's delicious, I never tasted chili like that before."

"That's a special recipe -- made out of squirrel meat. Good, ain't it?"

"Hmm, ... yeah that explains it".

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