As part of this weekend’s Bay View Bash, highly anticipated specialty sausage bar The Vanguard will be selling cased meats in front of its yet-to-be-completed property. The pop-up sausage station will grant eager eaters an early taste of Vanguard’s product, as well as give first-time business partners Chris Schulist and Jim McCann an opportunity to work beside one another in a non-construction setting prior to a projected October opening.
Though the co-owners have yet to man the Kinnickinnic Avenue bar and brat depot together, their history of working behind the bar goes back to the night the pair took over a stranger’s rumpus room at a house party in Seattle while their bands were on tour together roughly a decade ago. A fictional, less-than-legal basement bar called “Toozlerz” was born. Despite the makeshift Washington State bar not surviving to the next night, a bond was forged. “That was kind of when the seed was planted,” McCann says.
The build-up was slow, the bond was bisected by state lines, but—as most who will enjoy a hot pork injection Saturday are certain to attest—it was well worth the wait.
Schulist and McCann met through their bands (Milwaukee linchpin The Mistreaters and Chicago-by-way-of-Buffalo punk outfit The Baseball Furies, respectively), which toured together and had releases put out by the same label. As each project slowed, both men gained more experience in his city’s bar scene. Schulist had long served as the bar manager at Cactus Club in Bay View. McCann first managed Delilah’s, a Chicago punk bar with a staggering, nationally recognized whiskey selection. He later moved on to become beverage director at respected Logan Square bar and restaurant Longman & Eagle. As time passed, the future partners gathered valuable experience in disparate regions of the bar industry—with some overlap—and continued plotting. Two years ago, McCann relocated to Milwaukee when he and his wife “fell in love with Bay View.”
Now residing in the same area code, the only question was where in the neighborhood their dream bar would be located. After some searching, Vanguard had a home—or, rather, a Home. With the property that once encased fledgeling Home Bar, the new owners were getting an edifice with prime location on the main drag in booming Bay View, and a kickass rear patio that was wholly underutilized by the previous tenant. However, there was work to be done on the dingy fixer-upper that stood between said street and patio.
“We’re basically starting from the ground up,” Schulist says. “It’s a cool building that has a lot of potential, but we had to change a lot of stuff. That was super daunting, but now we’re seeing some of the payoffs, and every new thing is more fun.”
While there’s still interior work to be done, the contrast between Home and Vanguard is already stark. The once black walls are currently a soothing off-white. Dark wooden accents advance the homey feel. Shaky particleboard tables will be replaced by wall-side wooden tables (of the same hue). Save for some tools and building materials, the patio is tended to, and the bar itself has been replaced with a straight, smooth slab capable of seating 18. (The Vanguard expects a fire code of around 80 inside, with even more room on the patio.) Out front, the imposing entrance-adjacent black walls that only had one microscopic window have been knocked down and gutted in favor of—get this—windows. The southeast window grants a prime glimpse of perhaps the most significant improvement brought by the renovation: the grill.
The abbreviated and exposed door-side kitchen will literally show guests how the sausage is made. With former Odd Duck chef Shay Linkus aboard, Vanguard will feature in-house offerings of both traditional sausage fare such as standard brats and Italian, and a heavy rotation of less common wursts, including piri piri, pickled cactus, pesto, bean sprout, SarVecchio parmesan, fennel, and one that’s Vietnamese-inspired. Both owners place an emphasis on Vanguard offering an unique-yet-approachable environment, while offering a wide selection without being pretentious.
“When we say, ‘It’s gourmet brats and sausages,’ that could be just a plain brat or it could be rattlesnake. It’s really easy to have so many options,” Schulist says. “Everyone knows what a brat is, so we want to have it where you can get our house brat and a Pabst, or you can try one of our draft cocktails with a rattlesnake and rabbit sausage.”
Food will be served until 2 a.m. daily, and take-out is in no way frowned upon. Both owners stressed the importance of co-existing with other Bay View bars and restaurants. “We want it to be a place where—even if you’re not hanging out here, and you’re out and about—if you’re over at Burnhearts and you’re planning to meet your friends at Blackbird, this will be a place you can just stop by and grab something on your way,” Schulist says.
In addition to the 12 beers on tap, there will be cocktails. McCann says Old Fashioneds and Manhattans will always be available, and the other six lines will rotate seasonally—with the option to have guest bartenders concoct drink recipes.
Both owners plan to take a hands-on approach, opting to tend bar nearly every shift between the two of them in the early going. Schulist says he will continue DJing Packers games (as he has at Cactus Club in previous years) and he pledges to keep using Huey Lewis’ “The Power Of Love” for Green Bay touchdowns. For off-the-record reasons, wrestling fans will quickly grow to love the place, too. Still, all of that will come in time. Right now, this longtime dream between two buddies needs a little more work before it’s ready for Milwaukee to experience. Following two years of paperwork, delays, massive renovations, and a few stumbles along the way, Vanguard’s Bay View Bash brat stand marks a sizable step closer to the dream come true for two band dudes-turned-bar owners.
“I don’t go home and cry anymore,” McCann says. “That’s pretty awesome.”