Zack Bush is not a morning person. And that’s a good thing: As the co-owner of arguably the hippest bar on Calle Oche, Ball & Chain, he needs to be full-on alert when the sun goes down.
Bush’s main job is injecting new, fresh blood into the lounge that originally opened in 1935, and was frequented by such jazz icons as Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and Count Basie. The 3,000-square-foot spot closed in 1957 and got a cool, modern makeover last year.
We caught up with Bush, a Miami Palmetto Sr. High grad (Class of ’95), who gave us a little insight on what it’s like to be him.
What are you seeing as the hot cocktail so far this year?
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I think the classic cocktails will continue to remain hot for 2015. People love bars where they can go to for a consistently great drink, like an amazing mojito. Our Calle Ocho Old Fashioned has been and probably will remain a crowd favorite.
In your expert opinion, how has the local bar scene evolved?
There is definitely a move away from the larger-than-life club scene. I’ve never been a big “club” guy myself, but you’ll see more no-BS bars starting to pop up everywhere. At the end of a workday, be it Monday or Friday, people really just want to go out, kick back and have a great time. There is also a growing trend of bars stepping up their game in the cocktail department.
What makes your establishment different?
One of the things we tried to do from the onset was to bring a South Beach, high-quality cocktail to our Little Havana neighborhood and to make it more affordable. Our specialty cocktail menu features $12 cocktails. Those same drinks are priced significantly higher on South Beach. As Brickell continues to explode, it is only natural that people will start to shift west. That being said, if you walk down the streets of Little Havana today (day or night), you know that you are in a truly special place.
Do you see more growth in the area?
Yes: 100 percent — it’s inevitable. Little Havana is very near and dear to my heart. It is not every day that you get to become a part of history. Given that Count Basie, Chet Baker, Billie Holiday and other music legends have literally performed within our very walls, it is truly amazing to continue in their great musical tradition. We have a story to tell, and I think people have enjoyed learning about our unique history.
Have your own favorite?
I love a good cocktail like everyone else. My personal favorites are the Calle Ocho Old Fashioned — aged rum, demerara [unrefined] sugar, tobacco bitters and tobacco leaves. It’s incredible. Another crowd favorite is the Pastelito Daiquiri, mixed with sweetly infused aged rum, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, and garnished with an actual pastelito.
OK, enough about liquids. What about food?
We just added our version of the Elena Ruz sandwich to our lunchtime menu, and it has quickly become a favorite. It’s named for a Cuban socialite who frequented an all-night diner in 1930s Havana — roasted turkey, cream cheese, strawberry preserves served warm on pan suave. Talking about it makes me hungry.