Ball & Chain bar and lounge and the building it occupies offers a history as colorful and as fascinating as any structure on this portion of Calle Ocho, an area increasingly considered to be the center of Little Havana.
Historic Ball & Chain Miami 1939 Tax Card
But before there was a Calle Ocho, and even a Tamiami Trail, the mid-1900s name for Southwest Eighth Street, there was a dirt road, over which carriages and motor vehicles brought produce to downtown Miami for sale and shipment. The Trail, as it was commonly known, was also important because it represented the southern terminus of a national road, Highway 41, which began in the Midwest. In the era preceding superhighways, Highway 41 was a major entry route, via the Everglades, into Miami. Eventually, Southwest Eighth Street was paved and lined with commercial businesses, a movie theater, churches, and eateries in a neighborhood offering an intriguing demographic mix: a growing Jewish population standing side by side with a Deep South constituency.
Ball & Chain Saloon opened in 1935. The business remained there through the end of the 1950s, although its name changed slightly from time to time. In 1949, for example, it was Himmel’s Ball & Chain; in 1953, it was called the Ball & Chain Tavern.
The fortunes of Ball & Chain changed significantly in the 1950s, following its purchase by Ray Miller, Henry Schechtman, and others. Ray Miller was a felon and a Teamsters Union, Local 320, organizer and Henry Schechtman was a Jewish entrepreneur who often operated outside of the law. In a period of less than two months in the fall of 1957, Schechtman was arrested for burglary and for “attempting to pry open the deck lid of a jewelry salesman’s car.” Schechtman bought additional nearby properties, including the Tower Hotel, a former hospital dating to the early 1920s. Miller’s problems with the law included an arrest for public drunkenness, which he branded a “grudge charge” and attributed it to a disgruntled employee of a neighboring business.
According to his two sons, Schechtman dealt in stolen liquor and bootleg cigarettes, was part of a Jewish mob and served prison time. It would seem Ball & Chain was an appropriate name for his club. Schechtman was an imaginative businessman who staged bare knuckle fights behind the Tower Apartments. The times along Southwest Eighth Street were changing in that expansive post World War II era as more businesses filled the thoroughfare. With its rounded contours and RKO tower, the Tower Theater, standing across the street from Ball & Chain, was a popular draw for moviegoers. Used car dealers, other restaurants, an ice cream parlor, hardware store, gasoline stations, and even a hobby shop stood nearby Ball & Chain bar and lounge.