The other evening I went out for a birthday celebration for a friend of mine at a brewpub in Oakland. One of the guests in attendance was a cheese expert; as a gourmet wholesaler, he orders big-ass wheels of the stuff from all over the world. Never having actually met a cheese importer before, I did what any other complete dork would do and grilled him for cheddar about the biz. (Ha!) I decided to go deep, past all those Gouda myths, Stilton stories, and the covenant of Camembert, and really get to the nitty-gritty of cheese culture. (Ha!) For example, can you make cheese from possum milk? What exactly is Neufchâtel? Is buffalo mozzarella really from buffaloes or do I sound like Jessica Simpson? Stuff like that. What I came away with was this: There are four major cheese varietals, and from those come 18 different categories. Within those categories there can be some differentiation, like, say, pepper jack, or feta with dill. But no one has ever come up with more than 18 categories. People, there is no 19th Cheese.
Descartes said, "So, like, we all have pictures and concepts in our head, and we can't come up with anything new unless it is a construct of other pictures and concepts we already have. So, like, since I have a concept of God and shit, that must mean he exists." Or something like that. Anyway, I have a concept of the 19th Cheese, so it must exist. The cheese expert also foresees a 19th Cheese someday. Reader, do you not see a 19th Cheese? To quote R. Kelly, "If I can see it, then I can do it/ If I just believe it, there's nothing to it."
The curious part of this whole cheese business is that I was later to visit a new club that is attempting to reinvent the (cheese) wheel. Annie Whiteside, former proprietress of Annie's Cocktail Lounge off Bryant, is now the proud owner of Annie's Social Club at Fifth and Folsom. Hard-core scenesters and alcoholics (heck, what's the diff?) will recognize this corner as the old site of the Cherry Bar and before that the Covered Wagon Saloon. Now it's an amalgamation of the two, yet less feminine than the Cherry, and sleeker than the CW. The walls are painted a deep red, and Anne Rice-y chandeliers dip down over the bar. Velvet paintings adorning the walls are the only holdover from Whiteside's old place; they are a symptom of love of tchotchkes. The result is not exactly a 19th Cheese, but comely nonetheless.
There aren't a lot of places that I can walk into where I know many of the people, but Annie's was always like that. So when I showed up at her new digs I expected to see a friend or two. Sadly, I knew not a soul there, and even the bartenders were strangers to me. The good news is, the bartenders are really cool.
"Hi!" greeted one of them as I pulled up a stool. The whole bar was lined with people and Toph One was DJing. Instead of responding with a big "hi" back, I found myself enraptured with what appeared to be Weird Al Yankovic at the end of the bar. I even had my glasses on, and man, I'm telling you, this was Weird Al. He had long poofy curly hair parted in the middle, Weird Al's face, and he was wearing some goofy blazer thing.
"Nope, that's not Weird Al," said the bartender, patiently waiting for my drink order. But no, I was convinced. This was fucking Weird Al Yankovic and he was at Annie's Social Club. Surely there was a song to be made about the 19th Cheese. I had a feeling that Weird Al would appreciate something like that. And didn't he even write a song about cheese once? Something like "The Muenster Mash" or "I'm Coming Out So You Better Get the Havarti Started"?
The bartender gave me a Pabst and I reiterated my former point, which was that, man, that dude really must be Weird Al Yankovic. He sensed that I was not going to let up, so he braced himself and faced me, uttering calmly, "No. That is not Weird Al. Trust me." Then he gave me a kind, if not pitying, look that said, "This is finished, right?"
OK, I decided to drop it. Besides, Weird Al doesn't drink. I remember that from his hard-hitting Behind the Music. Still, I couldn't help ponder the question: If you look like that, why not play up the Slash angle instead? I mean, who realizes he looks like Weird Al Yankovic and just goes with it? You got balls, dude.
Once I got over my celebrity sighting, I had a great time. I believe Annie's Social Club has staying power. Whiteside already has a loyal band of customers, and the place just feels right for the first time in a long while.
But it's not the 19th Cheese of bars. To be the 19th Cheese you'd have to be doing something totally different, like have the bartenders suspended on ropes and all the drinks made from whatever booze correlates to the first letter of your first name. So I would have to drink Kaliber. OK, shitty idea.
As a newcomer to this cheese-rating business, I'd say that Annie's is probably a 16th variety of Parmesan, perhaps with cracked pepper, and aged in a cave in Turin for 10 years, then transported by horse and carriage, driven by a hunchback, through Basque country. At night, the weasels come.