Nightlife in Little Havana is about to become a thing after decades of being overlooked as an option in a town jam-packed with places to party.
In September, the historic Ball and Chain, 1513 SW 8th St., will reopen its doors to the neighborhood’s main street, Calle Ocho, where cigar shops, dominoes, art galleries, stores filled with painted roosters, and Cuban coffee counters reign today.
Before the area became a refuge for Cuban exiles, the bar “On the Trail” (aka Tamiami Trail) from the mid-1930s to late 1950s was a popular late-night haunt for many of the world’s most famous jazz musicians including Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, and Chet Baker in a predominently Jewish community.
Three local entrepreneurs, Bill Fuller of The Barlington Group, Zack Bush, a former nightlife impresario in South Beach, and his brother Ben Bush are ready to revive the entertainment venue, reclaiming its reputation as a power player in Miami’s complicated social scene with a 3,000 square-foot interior and a 3,500 square-foot patio outfitted for live music.
They say the music selections will infuse modern sounds with old school Cuban jazz, while showcasing the talent Miami has to offer during shows.
“We set out to provide a place for Little Havana’s locals and day visitors, a number that can reach up to three million a year,” says Fuller, whose Cuban grandfather and father spent time at the bar in its halcyon years. “When a tourist comes to Calle Ocho now, where can they go to get a proper Cuban cocktail during the day?”
The reincarnated Ball and Chain boasts a list of signature cocktails by world-renowned mixologist Julio Cabrera and Danny Valdez — brethren of the Asociacion de Cantineros de Cuba, the island’s professional bartenders’ guild for nearly 100 years.
The duo — currently behind the bar at The Regent Cocktail Club at the Gale — bring their extensive expertise in the form of playful tropical rum drinks like the “Canita.” In a bamboo cup, the bartenders pour fresh guarapo or sugarcane juice (a quintessential Cuban ingredient extracted using a hand-cranked press), fresh lime, housemade honey syrup, and white rum with a sugarcane stick to garnish.
“I’m very passionate about the style of drinks we created for the new bar. They’re related to my Cuban roots and have innovative touches like local flavors (guanabana), tobacco, guarapo and pastelito de guayaba,” says Cabrera as he describes the area’s favorite puff pastry with its flaky layers and guava (guayaba) filling.
Naturally, Cabrera’s favorite cocktail on the menu is the “Pastelito Daiquiri,” a pick-me-up in which he and Valdez infuse aged rum with guava, add fresh lime and simple syrup, and serve with a pastelito on the side.
Cuban cuisine merged with pub fare will be available alongside the drinks, but the details for this menu are not finalized.
Bush says the Ball and Chain of today is a close replica of the original because he and his partner are committed to persevering the unique cultural fabric that’s threatened by corporate chains like Publix, TD Bank, and CVS as they enter the area.
In fact, Fuller is one of the pioneers of Little Havana’s revival. His fingerprints are all over it and have been for 15 years. He owns the nearby hub for creativity in the Futurama building, 1637 SW 8th St., along with many other buildings that represent progress for the cluster of small businesses in the community (think Azucar Ice Cream Company).
“Entrepreneurs are choosing Little Havana as a different option for the location of their business, not a cheaper option,” says Fuller.
The locals who live and work in the neighborhood will soon have a place to dance and drink like it’s 1939 with the travelers who flock there for a taste of historic Cuban culture.
Saoco (Caribbean Spanish for rythym or song) – in a coconut shell
4 oz. coconut water
.25 oz. fresh lime juice
1.5 oz. white rum
Canita – in a bamboo cup
1 oz. fresh guarapo
.5 oz. fresh lime juice
.25 oz. honey syrup
1.5 oz. white rum
garnish: sugarcane stick
Frozen Banana Daiquiri
1.5 oz. white rum
.75 oz. crème de banana
1.5 oz. fresh lime juice
.25 oz. simple syrup
2 coffee beans
Calle Ocho Old Fashioned
2 oz. aged Rum
.25 oz. demerara syrup
3 dashes tobacco bitters
garnish: tobacco leaf