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Queer Camaraderie at Club Cumming

Gay night life in New York, for those seeking something more hands-on than a civil-rights history tour, greets newcomers as an impenetrable maze. Each turn leads back to the same scene: a club, somewhere on the West Side, where no one has a last name, poppers abound, and, amid the crush of bodies, near-identical bartenders, all muscle and chiselled jaw, serve as caricatures of a hegemonic hypermasculine ideal. Not so at Club Cumming. The tiny space welcomes a far broader spectrum of the queer community and overflows with a sense of inclusive camaraderie.

The actor Alan Cumming, a co-owner, named the bar after the parties he began throwing in his Broadway dressing room during the 2014 revival of “Cabaret.” The spontaneity lives on: in the past month, the closet-size stage has hosted a comically varied series of impromptu performances, from a sing-along with Paul McCartney to a dance routine by the cast of “Cats.”

On a recent Friday, a painter was working on a gorgeous, Weimar-esque mural at the entrance.

In the back, Daphne Always, the house drag queen, cast off her dress and glided through the crowd, wearing only chiffon sleeves and satin panties. “I took a shot of estrogen today. Doesn’t it show?” she said, between numbers. Three drinks in, a teetering twentysomething left most of his Up and Cumming—a frothy high-proof pineapple margarita—spilled on the bar. By then, the hosts of the next party, Witches Against Fascist Totalitarianism, had arrived, and even the straight men were singing along to Daphne’s lip-synched final set (Future, Natalie Imbruglia, “Con Te Partirò”). The muralist packed up, leaving a half-painted Liza Minnelli to gaze out, smirking, on the besotted crowd.

This article appears in the print edition of the November 6, 2017, issue, with the headline “Club Cumming.”

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