Ball & Chain is authentic in Little Havana
The neon sign for the “World Famous Ball & Chain Bar and Lounge” sits above a green-and-white striped awning, illuminating SW Eighth Street, much like it did nearly 80 years ago.
“The concept of Ball & Chain was to keep it as if it had remained open throughout the years,” explains Bill Fuller, who owns the Little Havana gem with his childhood buddies Zack and Ben Bush.
“That if the Ball & Chain wouldn’t have closed, this is what it would look like today.”
Originally opened in 1935, the Calle Ocho bar had several owners during its 22-year run. But the most notorious of them all were Henry Schechtman and Ray Miller.
Schechtman, a business man and owner of the nearby Tower Hotel, was arrested twice in the span of two months, once for B&E at a Lincoln Road bar, and the second time for attempting to break into the trunk of a jeweler’s car.
Miller, Schechtman’s business partner, was a Teamsters Local 320 union organizer who was tied to multiple counts of vandalism, including the slashing of 70 car tires.
The two took ownership of Ball & Chain in the early ’50s, only to be shut down several years later in 1957 after being slammed with a $5,000 lawsuit from Count Basie. The bandleader accused the shady owners of only paying him $5,000 of the $13,000 that he was promised.
“The wood is over 200 years old,” Fuller claims. “It’s older pine that dates back to before settlement in Miami.”
The wooden pillars that surround the island bar, along with the back patio’s concrete floor, are the only original fixtures that remain from the original B&C bar.
Every other detail of the Ball & Chain, however, is reminiscent of its past, from vintage 1940s wallpaper and halophane lamps to black-and-white photos of post-Depression Miami to old newspaper ads announcing Chet Baker and Count Basie hanging on the walls.
“This is the holy grail of our art pieces,” Fuller says, as he points at a vintage yellow-and-red Jam Session sign.
“This is an original,” he goes on. “It was found covering the electrical panel at the Tower Hotel across the street, which was owned by Schechtman, with the art work facing the panel.”
In honor of its history, the sign now covers the revamped Ball & Chain bar’s electrical panel. Right side up, of course.
Décor aside, Fuller and the Bush brothers are keeping Ball & Chain’s roots alive through music. With live jazz followed by local bands Thursday through Saturday nights, the tuneage ties it all together.
“The original and current sign says ‘Live Music’ in neon, so you better own it,” jokes Bush. “The goal is to have no house or hip-hop music — our goal is to keep people dancing. And yes, we’re proud to play Latin music.
“We have one goal,” Fuller adds. “To make it authentic.”