Since its 1935 opening, Little Havana's Ball & Chain has gone through a slew of owners, changing names along the way, before it finally closed and was vacated in the late 1950s. But prior to reaching its premature demise, the venue was the bustling epicenter of a city full of illegal gambling and liquor violations.
And though the venue didn't shy away from those things, it was best known for its live entertainment, which included greats such as Billie Holiday, Count Basie, and Chet Baker. It was that rich history of live music that owners Bill Fuller and brothers Zack and Ben Bush were attracted to when they decided to restore
It's been a year since the venue's reopening, but that's not the only anniversary it plans to celebrate. Sure, you could cock your head in suspicion at Ball & Chain's 80th anniversary and sternly wave a finger in protest because the venue hasn't technically been open for a straight 80 years, but why get mad when you can just shut up, drink mojitos, and dance?
That's what the new owners of Ball & Chain plan to do at the upcoming three-day music festival in honor of what would have been the 80th anniversary of the club.
This was something the owners had in mind when they opened the new Ball & Chain a year ago. "We selected a date last fall that coincided historically with when we knew the venue opened in the fall of 1935. So this idea that we're able to now celebrate on those double anniversaries — the day that we reopened it and around the time that we know it originally opened — it's just that way of continuing to connect the dots," Fuller says.
He and Zack Bush have been friends since childhood, and Fuller was the one who introduced Bush to the venue and its rich history.
"He first notified me of the history probably when we were closer to 21, 22 years old," Bush says. "We didn't bring it about until many, many years later because we didn't have the know-how or the ability at the time, maybe not even the finances. It's just a testament to not only the neighborhood and the history of the venue itself but also to a longtime friendship — a dream of two kids one day opening a bar and live music venue with jazz and all sorts of stuff."
As admirers of Miami's live music scene, Fuller and Bush recognize and appreciate what the venue did for the city in its early years, and the two hope to re-create some of that magic.
"We believe that we're kind of breeding a live music scene and that's one thing that, at least in our generation, we feel Miami has [lacked]," Fuller says. "But when we look back at the history of Ball & Chain, we see it was an integral part of the community back then, and that's kind of part of what we're trying to restore here."
Fuller especially hopes the venue will encourage people to listen to genres that are less popular.
"Because we're crossing the demographics and crossing the ages and everything with the type of people who are coming in, in a lot of ways it made Latin music acceptable and cool in Miami," Fuller says.
Fuller and Bush say they didn't feel burdened by the massive shadow Ball & Chain's musical history cast upon them. And despite the venture being a very costly investment, the two say it's not about the money.
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"We know we're never going to get that money back," Bush says. "But we're really trying to create something special for the community and the neighborhood.
Ball & Chain 80th Anniversary
With Nick Tannura Trio, Electric Piquete, the Baboons, Spam Allstars, the