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  • Just days after President Barack Obama left office, this mural on the side of Ben

    Just days after President Barack Obama left office, this mural on the side of Ben's Chili Bowl in Washington, DC, has been removed | Photo: AFP

The restaurant insists erasing the former president was not political, and may even bring Obama's face back if that's what customers decide. 

Barack Obama left the presidency just days ago, but already his smiling face is gone from a mural on the wall of an iconic eatery in the U.S. capital.

An outer wall of Ben's Chili Bowl – famous for its chili half-smoke sausages – on very hip U Street is now just a vast white space.

Also painted over is the face of Bill Cosby, the groundbreaking comedy legend now reviled as a suspected serial sexual predator.

Passersby who were used to seeing those two faces on the colorful mural are doing a double-take. In its place are written the words "new year, new mural" and the address of the restaurant's website.

"I'm shocked that they actually took it down," said Shadarryl Brown, a 43-year-old African-American.

There is nothing political about the removal, the restaurant insists. It is letting people vote on which faces go up now.

Obama's departure from the White House last Friday is just a coincidence, she insisted.

"We removed the mural because it's been there five years. It needs to be done again. And we decided that for the new year, we should do a new mural. For the next five years," said Ali.

The decision to give the wall a makeover was made last spring.

The new one will go up around April, and the idea is to let people vote on who they want to see – even Obama again, maybe, this time with wife Michelle.

Voting will be open until late February but already thousands of people have cast their ballot, said Kamal Ali, son of the owner.

"So far Michelle and Barack Obama are leading," he said. "They are leading overwhelmingly."

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