When you’re a cheese bar—and not just any cheese bar, but a cheese bar starring Rainier Beer in a pint glass whose rim drips beer cheese and pretzel shards—you can pretty much get away with brusque service and walls done in Early Cell Block. Nobody cares. Oh, that’s not entirely fair: Only one of the four employees on duty the night of our visit was curt; the rest were ready with a welcome and a cheese tutorial, and the gray cement walls weren’t entirely blank—a cheese grater dangled from one. (Apparently others have joined it since my visit.)
But the “nobody cares” bit? Couldn’t be truer. Because the pure pleasure that makes molten cheese so popular across so many demographics is here—with cheese worth eating.
Owner Sheri LaVigne owns the artisanal cheese shop Calf and Kid in Melrose Market and opened Culture Club last October on the emerging northerly commercial strip of 12th on Capitol Hill. A small selection of wines, beers, and ciders provides thoughtful accompaniment; bread comes from Macrina bakery. And between the two, the cheese: a complex sheep and goat robiola with a winning funk in the aftertaste served in a little ramekin for a baby happy hour fondue, a flight of three cheeses offset with complementary fruits and jams and paired (smartly) with two-ounce pours of wines or beers, a cast-iron skillet of mac and cheese starring the lusty teamwork of Ovoline mozzarella, fontina val d’Aosta, Mt. Townsend Creamery’s New Moon jack, Cabot clothbound cheddar, and Colston Bassett stilton for a rumor of blue. Any mac and cheese with this many strands of barn and bloom is officially no longer comfort food. It’s something way smarter.
These are simply lush creations—particularly the grilled cheese sandwich oozing Perolari taleggio and sherried mushrooms—but, as with service and decor, adjust expectations regarding the menu. Not quite a restaurant, Culture Club offers just four or five substantive selections a night. Thank heavens they’re all you need.