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By the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century, tour buses discovered Calle Ocho and its attractive offerings, bringing hundreds and even thousands of visitors daily to Little Havana. In 2014, Ball & Chain bar and music hall opened across the street from the historic Tower Theater.
Calle Ocho, Little Havana’s “Main Street,” is alive as never before. Calle Ocho sees three million tourists in the quarter annually—a figure second only to that of South Beach in terms of visitors. The famous Calle Ocho is, of course, the most important Little Havana thoroughfare, the place to be to taste the rich culture and liveliness that characterizes the Hispanic-Caribbean culture that has melded with elements of mainstream American culture. Yet, two decades ago, with the exception of colorful domino games in fabled Domino Park and the monuments lining Cuban Memorial Boulevard (S.W. 13th Avenue), little was available to see for the small number of tourists who arrived in Little Havana, excepting the annual editions of the Three Kings Parade and the Calle Ocho Open House.
By the beginning of the new century, however, as more persons inside and outside of the U.S. became aware of Little Havana, the number of visitors ratcheted upward sharply. Assisting this upswing was the appearance in 2000 of Viernes Culturales, a monthly celebration of the work of artists in the quarter helped along by rich offerings. And it’s not just about art galleries. The cultural festival includes
- street entertainers
- gallery events
- historic tours
The historic Ball & Chain re-opened to add even more vivacity to Calle Ocho
The Ball & Chain would quickly become a main draw in Little Havana. From 1934 through 1957, with its mix of music, shows, and gambling, the original Ball & Chain had been a mainstay of Southwest Eighth Street, today’s Calle Ocho, which also represents the eastern edge of Highway 41, a national highway beginning in the Midwest.
In its 1950s heyday, the Ball & Chain offered the likes of Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Harry the Hipster, Chet Baker, and Gene Krupa, all heavyweights in the realm of music. The large space occupied by Ball & Chain featured a stage in center, a long bar off to the west side of the room, tables sprinkled throughout the venue, and an alternative entranceway on the east side of the building for quick getaways.
In 1957, financial problems led to its closing, after which its space was occupied by the Copa Lounge Tavern, a pale version of the once raucous club. The Copa yielded to La Futurama furniture in the late 1960s, as the neighborhood was filling with large numbers of Cubans fleeing the Marxist dictatorship of Fidel Castro. La Futurama operated from that space till the mid-1990s, after which the venerable building stood vacant.
In the first decade of the new century, the Barlington Group, headed by Martin Pinella and Bill Fuller, purchased the building and began an extensive renovation in preparation for its reopening in September 2014 for its reopening as Ball & Chain.
Ball & Chain today
Since 2014, Ball & Chain, under the ownership and management of Bill Fuller and the Bush brothers, Zack and Ben, has redefined entertainment and fun on Calle Ocho. Its overwhelming success is a testament to its décor, drinks, food, and the live music provided patrons daily.
Guests from near and far visit Ball & Chain in a neighborhood experiencing gentrification and a tourist boom unlike anything that has come before. And Ball & Chain, a major driving force behind this advancement, is again one of the premiere bar and lounge establishments in Greater Miami.
Paul S. George, Ph.D.