Zack and Ben Bush Revive History at Ball & Chain
Zack and Ben Bush
From 1935 to 1957, Ball & Chain was the beating heart of Calle Ocho, a buzzing club where jazz legends such as Billie Holiday and Chet Baker made Miami dance. But then the Little Havana gem languished for decades.
Until brothers Zack and Ben Bush came along, that is.
"The opportunity to be a part of history comes only once in a lifetime," says Zack, the younger of the Bush bros.
Walk into Ball & Chain today and you'd be forgiven for thinking you stumbled into a time warp to the heyday of jazz: Yellowed posters line the walls, vintage cocktails slide across the bar, and live bands bang out tunes.
The brothers behind the club's stunning rebirth were raised in Miami and learned their business acumen in the family firm, a waste and recycling company called General Hauling Service Inc.
"My dad said, 'We paid for college; now go and figure out how to make money,'" Ben says. "We worked in it for more than 15 years, and over that time, we built it up in South Florida. We took it from a couple hundred customers to a couple thousand."
It was Zack's lifelong best friend who found a way to marry that entrepreneurial spirit with their love of Miami's musical history. Bill Fuller worked with Paul George, a historian at HistoryMiami, to research the backstory of the long-since-shuttered Ball & Chain. They found a rich tale of gangsters, feuds, and jazz icons.
"He knew my passion for nightlife and music and was like, 'Why don't we open a bar?'" Zack says of Fuller. "With Ball & Chain, the opportunity arose, and we thought we could do something very special."
So the brothers and Fuller embarked on an all-too-rare endeavor in Miami: Restoring the club to its 1930s glory-days glamour. This past September, the club celebrated both its first and 80th birthdays, a recognition of how closely it hews to its past (even if it was shuttered for decades in between).
"Whereas Miami continues to evolve, the Ball & Chain remains authentic and true to itself," Ben says. "We hope to create an icon in the community that becomes a place people have to see when they come to Miami."
Adds Zack: "Miami doesn't really have its signature Blue Note [Jazz Club], and I would love to see Ball & Chain become that. It's an incredible, one-of-a-kind piece of history. I want this place to be around in 100 years."