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The Short Version: From the 1930s to the 1950s, Ball & Chain was a well-established jazz club in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood. In 2014, three friends re-established the club, aiming to recapture the same spirit as the original. Now, Ball & Chain has once again become one of Miami’s most popular hangouts. Couples flock to the music venue and restaurant to hear live music every night of the week, participate in unique activities, and eat authentic Cuban food. The philosophy behind the establishment is that the original Ball & Chain never closed; it has just been updated for today’s crowd.
In 1935, Ball & Chain was a saloon that opened in what’s now Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood. It was popular with music lovers, who flocked to the establishment to listen to live jazz. During the nightclub’s heyday, legendary entertainers like Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, and Billie Holiday performed there.
Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the club became a popular hangout for gamblers — which resulted in police raids — and was one of the only nightclubs in the racially-segregated city to welcome black performers.
Later in the 1950s, Cuban immigrants fleeing Fulgencio Batista and Fidel Castro came into the city, earning the neighborhood the moniker it still has today. In 1957,Ball & Chain closed and emerged as a similar club called The Copa. According to the eatery’s website, that iteration “was a distant cry from Ball & Chain bar and lounge, for it lacked the color and live entertainment of its predecessor.”
Still, the legend of that original Ball & Chain lived on — until it was re-established in 2014.
For decades, Miamians remembered the quality of the nightclub and its performers. In the early 2000s, Bill Fuller, a Miami native of Cuban descent, learned about the history of the innocuous building in his neighborhood that had once been the vibrant establishment.
“He told me about the world-famous Ball & Chain, and his dream was to bring it back to life,” said Zack Bush, one of three co-owners of the new Ball & Chain.
Early on, none of the Co-Owners — Bill, Zack, or Zack’s brother Ben — had the business know-how to open an establishment of their own. But the dream was planted, and after years of working on the idea, the three friends officially reopened Ball & Chain in 2014.
As the partners considered the concept for the current iteration of Ball & Chain is, they asked themselves: What if the original nightclub was updated for a 21st-century clientele?
“We modeled Ball & Chain as if it stayed open since 1935 and had never closed,” Zack said.
That means that the club offers live music and events every day of the week. Musicians play at the club each day, beginning at noon and keep performing into the wee hours of the evening.
Most evenings, Ball & Chain pays homage to the neighborhood’s Cuban heritage by hosting Latin jazz ensembles. These include salsa afternoons, Mambo Mondays, and Bacha Tuesdays that allow singles and couples to listen and dance to these lively musical styles.
“We have the most incredible Latin jazz at night,” Zack notes.
Just as the club hosts so much music as an homage to its predecessor, it also wants to feature as many famous artists as did the last iteration of Ball & Chain.
“We can have not only jazz but also Grammy winners and nominees that bring Ball & Chain full circle,” Zack said. “It used to be great jazz, but now we just have great music.”
Those musical offerings attract crowds made up of singles, couples, tourists, and locals. From noon to 6 p.m., Ball & Chain patrons are typically tourists, checking out the unique spot. After 6 p.m., though, the crowd is mostly local, also a throwback to the establishment’s early days.
How do the tourists know to come to Ball & Chain? Perhaps because of its high ratings on TripAdvisor and other online review sites. Glowing reviews praise it for being the kind of traditional, energetic Miami experience that people look for when they visit the city.
“If you haven’t been to Ball & Chain, you haven’t really been to Miami,” Zack said.
While the original Ball & Chain focused more on the music than it did on food and drinks, the new version focuses equally on both. The restaurant part of the establishment serves up authentic Cuban fare and tasty cocktails.
The menu offers both classic Cuban food and fusion cuisine. Some classics include Mariquitas de Maduros, Cuban plantain chips, and the Medianoche, a sandwich of ham, mojo pork, swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard aioli on pan suave bread.
Soon, Ball & Chain will add even more traditional offerings.
“We’re getting ready to roll out a new menu,” said Zack. “We’re keeping our favorites, but we’re getting ready to introduce new Cuban classics, including Ropa Vieja and Chicken Fricassee.”
Ropa Vieja is a shredded steak dish made with tomato sauce, bell peppers, and cumin, while Chicken Fricassee is a marinated chicken dish served with olives and potatoes.
Food offerings won’t be entirely traditional, however. Some Cuban-with-a-twist options include the Cuban Spring Roll, in which the ingredients of the popular sandwich are rolled into a rice wrapping. And its Congi Fritters consist of rice, beans, and cheese breaded and deep-fried and served with mustard aioli.
“We’re proud of all our tapas items and food items,” Zack said.
The drinks at Ball & Chain also have a following. Zack’s top drink recommendation is the mojito, a traditional Cuban cocktail made with Bacardi rum, lime juice, sugar, and mint.
“It’s been named the best mojito in Miami,” he adds.
For adventurous drinkers, he suggests the Calle Ocho Old-Fashioned, made with rum, sugar, and a surprising ingredient.
“It has tobacco bitters and a tobacco leaf garnish,” Zack said.
As Ball & Chain re-emerges as one of Miami’s most popular clubs, so does its home neighborhood, Little Havana. The club has helped the neighborhood again become one of the top places to see in the city.
“When we opened five years ago, we were one of the only places in town bringing mainstream nightlife to the neighborhood. We helped attract a new demographic because people could see what Little Havana had become,” Zack said.
Ball & Chain continues to highlight what Little Havana has to offer, as well. For example, Tuesday nights host Noche de Domino, or domino tournaments featuring professional players from Domino Park, which is across the street from the club.
“You can’t turn on a travel show about Miami without seeing Domino Park,” said Zack with a laugh. “On Tuesday afternoon, we invite the famous players from the park to a domino tournament where anyone can play with professionals from the park. And there are cash prizes.”
Like every other event at Ball & Chain, Domino Tuesdays are free. That is one of the most appealing policy Ball & Chain adopted from the original nightclub: no covers and no minimums.
“That’s the same slogan they had back then,” Zack said.
With so many activities and so much good food, Ball & Chain is the perfect place to bring a date. High-energy couples can learn to salsa, while lower-key pairs may prefer to play dominoes. Whatever they choose to do, they’ll feel welcome.
“We care about our people. It’s a Little Havana experience that’s affordable, accessible, and authentic,” Zack said.