I went to Club Cumming recently for an open-mike night to belt some Hedwig and Little Mermaid, but stayed to dance with a Beatle.
Little did I know Emma Stone, Billie Jean King, and Paul McCartney would walk in during my rendition of “Poor Unfortunate Souls.” They continued the accidental Disney theme of the night with Ariel’s “Part of Your World.” They asked us not to record with our phones but instead to record “with our hearts.”
Nobody defies a Beatle.
After McCartney jammed on the harmonica for a bit, he rejoined the crowd and danced the night away to Donna Summer and Scissor Sisters, all supplied by DJ Alan Cumming himself.
Just another Thursday night at Club Cumming.
Alan Cumming’s new East Village haunt couldn’t have come at a more perfect moment than right now. With LGBT rights threatened on a daily basis by our current administration, Cumming has created a safe haven for queer people seeking a refuge from the overwhelming anxiety our news feeds give us everytime time we pull out our phones.
Formerly Eastern Bloc, the small, dimly lit bar reminds one of the Kit Kat Klub, the lounge Cumming famously stepped into as emcee for eight shows a week on Broadway in Cabaret. In the back, you can play a game of I Spy at the sexy Weimar-inspired mural, picking out the erect penises hidden among the portraits of New York nightlife luminaries. Red vinyl cushions line the walls where guests lounge and sip cocktails. An upright piano sits onstage, tempting amateurs or professionals to tickle the keys and belt anything from Bette to Beck.
On the wall above the DJ booth hangs a red neon sign, the only light on weekends to fill the dark space. The sign reads “Club Cumming” and is a leftover from Cumming’s legendary dressing room after-parties.
The actual space of Club Cumming leaves much to the imagination, which is what makes the venue so perfect to host a myriad of queer programming. The space is an open vessel for the inhabitants to take over and shape shift into whatever they want for the night. From dance parties to sing-alongs to drink and draws, the calendar is stacked with local nightlife legends and alt-icons crafting an oasis of queerness for the hoi polloi to enjoy.
Michael Musto is one of them. The iconic writer and raconteur hosted a “Duets” cabaret in September that doubled as a fundraiser for the SAGE organization.
“Club Cumming brings back a much-needed spotlight on performance,” Musto says. “As such, it’s something unique. How many bars are there that have something aside from drag queens? If you compare it to cabaret rooms, how many of them have a wild mixture of performance art, esoteric music, camp and schmooze nights? Like Cumming himself, it’s a wonderful mixture of highbrow and lowbrow. And when I perform there, it’s unibrow.”
Ungroomed or not, there's a certain sexual charge that runs through the place, courtesy of Cumming's business partner, party planner Daniel Nardicio. Famed for his underwear parties on Fire Island, Nardicio has an expertise in dark rooms is the perfect pairing to Cumming’s craft of cabaret.
"Alan and Daniel have always been great supporters of emerging artists and it's fitting that they've created a new downtown performance space,” says artist Ryan Raftery, who was one of the talents who joined Musto onstage for his benefit. “I was sad to see Eastern Bloc go, but they've actually maintained the vibe while injecting some speakeasy ‘Kit Kat Klub business’ into it."
Not only will you see local celebrities onstage, you may see an international star or two in the crowd, as in my pas de deux with McCartney. With a star like Cumming behind the project, and Anderson Cooper’s boyfriend, Benjamin Maisani (co-owner of Eastern Bloc), still involved, you never know who is going to show up. This adds an extra layer of quintessential New York energy to the whole endeavor.
“There's something electric about the energy that it holds,” pianist Henry Koperski, whose Cabernet Cabaret with funny lady Catherine Cohen takes place Wednesday, tells me. “It has the gritty edge of the East Village and the charm of Broadway. It reminds me why I moved to New York in the first place.”
There are lots of moments you’ll want to record when you’re at Club Cumming. But trust me: Keep your phone in your pocket. You won’t get kicked out for Instagramming or Snapchatting, but you’ll miss out on what the venue offers its guests: the opportunity to escape. That may be the most precious element right now in a world seemingly wrought with so much peril.
When asked to comment for this piece, Cumming simply told us, "I think now the bar speaks for itself. To understand Club Cumming, just go.”