When Rodolfo Tancredi’s yoga instructor mentioned the bar where she also works, Ball & Chain, he decided to check out the Little Havana establishment on a recent Saturday night.
“I go to everything I’m invited to,” said Tancredi, a Venezuelan native, 39. “So I came by to see what was going on.”
What Tancredi didn’t know was that he chose to visit Ball & Chain during its weekly Saturday night event dubbed, “La Pachanga.”
The event starts at 6 p.m. with a live band that plays old school Cuban jazz with tropical beats transitioning into a variation of Latin songs played by a DJ. It also hosts live salsa and “son cubano,” a type of Cuban music played with six instruments: tres, claves, guiro, bongos, double bass and maracas. Local musicians and bands also play other Latin genres during “La Pachanga.”
“I’ve been here a couple of times, and they have quality music with young, talented musicians,” said customer John McNally, 57.
The music played by the DJ varies, from songs by Cuban Salsa singer Celia Cruz to Miami native Pitbull, bringing the Latin flare to its guests at Miami’s “Calle Ocho,” the historic Eighth Street in Little Havana.
The sounds vibrate off the walls. Its customers and employees dance and sip on the island’s native drinks, such as mojitos and other concoctions with names like Calle Ocho Old Fashioned, Bananita Daiquiri, Passion Fontaine, Pastelito Daiquiri, Cañita and The Jam Session, which is made with London dry gin, apricot liqueur, fresh lemon juice, house-made guava jam and angostura bitters.
Many customers accompany the cocktails with tapas, which includes fish tacos, quesadilla con chorizo, Cuban spring rolls, roasted corn, “queso frito” (fried cheese), “chicharron” (crispy fried pork) and other Latin flavor sides.
The only sandwich on the menu is “Elena Ruz,” named after a Cuban socialite who lived in Havana during the1930s. It is made with roasted turkey, cream cheese and strawberry preserves, served warm on soft bread.
“This is something that Eighth Street has always needed. It has Eighth Street written all over it,” said Manuel Gaston, bar employee, who has been at Ball & Chain since September of last year.
All the walls are covered in 1940s wallpaper with posters showing the faces of performers who used to play there, including Billie Holiday, Count Basie and Chet Baker, along with dozens of black and white images depicting Cuba and its culture. The establishment is framed by vintage wood, including the doors that lead to an outside patio bar that holds a far-center stage designed in the shape of a pineapple.
Ball & Chain reopened on September 2014, 57 years after it closed due to a lawsuit by musician Count Basie. On weekends, the musician did day-time performances at the bar, called “jam sessions.” During the show, audience members would join Basie on stage and play along. Basie’s contract had arranged for a payment total of $13,000 for his “jam sessions.” On January 1957, Ball & Chain paid the musician only $5,100. Basie sued for the money the bar owed him and won the dispute, obligating it to pay him the remaining amount, plus an additional $5,000.
Later that year, former Ball & Chain owners, Henry Schechtman and business partner Ray Miller, went out of business and closed. In 1958 and for the following 57 years, the Eight Street establishment underwent various incarnations, including “Copa Lounge Tavern,” a furniture store and “Kamazoo Nightclub.”
Current owners and Miami natives Bill Fuller, his best friend Zack Bush and brother Ben Bush, reopened “Ball & Chain” with the idea of building something affordable, accessible and authentic, while remaining true to the history of the bar and the Cuban neighborhood.
“We had a chance to recreate history. How often does that opportunity knock on your door?” said Zack Bush. “Our whole role since the beginning was that we wanted to bring back Ball & Chain as if it had never closed, as if it had kept up with the times and evolved.”
IF YOU GO
What: Saturdays at Ball & Chain’s “La Pachanga.”
Where: 1513 SW Eighth Street, Little Havana, FL 33135
Hours: Saturdays from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. Regular hours: Monday – Wednesday from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m.; Thursdays – Saturdays from 12 p.m. to 3 a.m.; Sundays from 2 p.m. to 12 a.m.
Entrance Fee: No Cover Charge
Parking: Street parking and valet parking available for $8.