Chili horse rides again


Sometimes you just cant keep a good horse down.

The Hard Times chili horse, known to some as Fred, Jr. and to others as the horse with no name, has been an iconic mainstay of the Hard Times Chili Cafe for decades.  

The famed Old Town eatery has served up four types of chili, cornbread, chicken fingers and all categories of comfort food since brothers Fred and Jim Parker opened it up to hungry patrons in 1980. In about 1985 the restaurateurs picked up a life-sized horse statue from a saddlery in Laurel, Md, which was then going out of business.

The horse has been perched outside in the flatbed of a 1941 brown Chevy ever since, welcoming visitors to the cafe at 1404 King Street, which is best known for its Western decor, laid-back atmosphere and Texas-sized bowls of chili.

But hard times have befallen the 41 Chevy and Fred, Junior over the years, most notably recently.

One night last November, Parker received a call from Alexandria Police at about 1:30 am., with the horrid news that his antique truck and its beloved steed had been critically injured by a reportedly inebriated bar patron, who had reportedly been moving their car from a parking spot at a reportedly high speed.  

Anytime you get a call from the police at that hour, you think its about your kids, Parker recalled Sunday, as he re-positioned the horse and Chevy in front of the chili hot spot, after a two-month visit with an auto mechanic.  

The driver had reportedly slammed into the left side of Parkers beloved Chevy, leaving the left fender looking like a crumpled up piece of paper, Parker said.

Fortunately, the drivers insurance took care of the $10,000 in damages. But the horse and Chevy were out of commission since November, just returning to their perch last Sunday.

Parker said the duo are so popular that certain raucous revelers have tried to take them home literally. About three years ago, several students from T.C. Williams High School managed to snatch Fred, Jr.  from the bed of the Chevy in the middle of the night. When a mortified parent discovered the statue the next day in their garage, Fred, Jr. was promptly returned. 
There was also the night about a year ago some patrons from a bar across the street tried to make their way home with Fred, Jr., but were thwarted by chivalrous passers-by.

For now, Parker has his faithful friend firmly attached to the bed of his beloved truck. The two will make their 23rd appearance at the George Washington Birthday Parade next month in Old Town, and the St. Patricks Day Parade in March.