By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Jun 24, 2024 at 4:41 PM

Chris Schulist has been enamored with vinyl albums for most of his life. He was originally introduced to analog audio recordings by his Uncle Gene when he was a kid. After his uncle passed about four years ago, Schulist inherited his massive record collection and added them to his enormous personal collection.

“I joke my house is made of records,” he says.

So it makes perfect sense that Schulist, and Jim McCann with whom he owns The Vanguard restaurant, morphed the former Lee’s Luxury Lounge into a vinyl listening lounge called Wiggle Room, 2988 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

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The remodel process was intense, mostly because of the need for infrastructure that would ensure excellent sound. Sound engineer John Dykstra added sound absorbing panels, bass traps and subwoofers so the music can be loud but still conversation friendly.

This is particularly important to Schulist who, after years of being in bands, has a severe case of tinnitus and describes his hearing as sometimes akin to a radio between stations. 

“I really need a warmer sound,”  says Schulist. “And I want customers to hear everything clearly throughout the entire space, but don’t have to fight with the music.”

The massive DJ booth’s foundation is in the lower level and comes up through the floor into the bar. 

“It’s impossible to skip the record if people are dancing near it,” says Schulist. “It’s like a pedestal anchored in the basement.”

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Schulist estimates there are at least 5,000 records lining the walls at Wiggle Room, 75 percent of which came from his uncle.

“I spent a lot of time alphabetizing,” says Schulist, who is particular about his alphabetizing method. “Don’t even try to put Tom Petty in the T’s.”

The collection includes rock, hip hop, funk, soul, R&B, jazz, disco, country, soundtracks, compilations and what Schulist describes as a “bullsh*t section.”

“That means it’s just a lot of stuff I’ve never listened to, but who knows, there might be some soft rock bangers in there,” he says.

Numerous labels donated records or gave Schulist a wholesale discount since discovering Wiggle Room was opening, including Third Man Records, Trouble In Mine Records, Big Neck Records, Jazz Is Dead, RidingEasy Records, Stones Throw Records and more. 

Schulist is the co-founder of the Dope Folks Records label. As previously mentioned, he is also the co-owner of The Vanguard, the former lead singer of The Mistreaters and regularly DJs under the name “Christreater.” He served as the touring DJ / Hype Man for his longtime friend Jack White. 

Wiggle Room will host “all across the board” programming like metal nights, library music spins (recordings made specifically for film and TV), Hip-Hop nights specializing in rare cuts from the '80s and early' 90s, soundtrack nights, jazz nights and more.

Schulist’s collection contains dozens of pressings from Casey Kasem’s “American Top 40” radio show that ran from 1970 to 1988. The albums, which were made every week and sent to radio stations, are full recordings of the four-hour radio show and even include commercials. Schulist noted in his personal calendar which dates he has a Casey Kasem album and has already played one for a happy hour.

“We listened to a full Top 40 recording from June 19, 1978,” says Schulist. “It was really fun. People were really tuned in to hear what the No. 1 song was.”

Wiggle Room will also have Record Store Spins where employees can DJ and everything they play is for sale. The lounge will also be available to Cactus Club bands that want to DJ after their show.

“I have no shortage of dumb ideas for this place,” says Schulist. 

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Other than the connection to his late uncle, Schulist says he loves vinyl for myriad reasons, primarily the physicalness of the medium.

“It’s about holding a record, reading the liner notes, looking at the art. Much of the cover art gets lost on the thumbnail of an MP3,” says Schulist. “No one’s going to remember their first download, but they’ll remember their first record.”

(Editor’s note: Shaun Cassidy, “Born Late,” 1977.)

McCann handles the beverage side of the business. He specializes in Japanese whiskeys and beers as a nod to the high-end listening lounges in Japan. The drink menu also boasts an array of handcrafted cocktails – we had a delicious Wiggle Compari Punch and an Elijah Craig Old Fashioned during our visit – along with wine, draft beer, canned beer and cocktails, and a large selection of non-alcoholic and THC/CBD drinks.

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“A lot of people my age have stopped drinking or cut back,” says Schulist, who has been sober for five years. “Milwaukee is such a drinking town – it’s nice that it’s a little more acceptable now. NA was always such an afterthought: ‘Here’s a Sharp’s.’ Who the f*ck wants to drink a Sharp’s?”

Wiggle Room hosted a soft opening about two weeks ago and is now open daily from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.

“All vinyl all the time,” says Schulist.

Follow Wiggle Room on Instagram here.

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Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.