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Alan Cumming Knows More About Manhattan Nightlife Than You Do

If you find yourself in a narrow East Village bar adorned with red lights, a precariously perched piano and a sign reading, “Resist, Persist, Keep Dancing,” you’ve stumbled into Alan Cumming’s pride and joy. “Club Cumming started in my dressing room because I wanted the party to come to me,” the actor says about the bar that he opened two years ago. “I really do love encouraging people to have fun.” Cumming remembers how starring on “The Good Wife” and his second run on Broadway’s “Cabaret” kept him too busy to socialize. ”I think I’m really good at it,” he says, pausing to laugh (a Cumming tic as frequent as it is endearing). “And alcohol obviously helps.”

The East Village bar reflects its owner’s wonderfully bizarre taste. Spend a night at Club Cumming and you could experience anything from drag shows to cabaret comedy routines to a circle of knitting fanatics (who, he reveals with a delighted grin, prefer to be called “fiber artists”). And yes, it still acts as a convenience for Cumming, who lives nearby and relishes ending a long day by slipping behind the bar. “I’m one of those annoying actors because I’ve never had another job,” he says. “I never had to be a waiter or caterer or anything, and I’ve always longed to be a bartender.”

Cumming is the first to admit that his life in New York has been a charmed one. His first night in the city was for the 1996 premiere of “Emma” (in which he starred), when he partied in Central Park, saw his first-ever fireflies (there are none in his native Scotland) and zipped downtown on the back of his date’s motorcycle. Since then, he’s built a deep and varied career including everything from cult classics (“Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion”) to blockbusters (“GoldenEye”) to his own exuberantly political one-man show (“Legal Immigrant”). He loves the city so much, in fact, that even leaving JFK airport inspires reverence. “The first time you see the skyline,” he says, “it feels like seeing Oz at the end of the Yellow Brick Road.”

It helps that Cumming carves out unique spaces for himself no matter where he lands. Case in point is his steady gig on “Instinct,” a CBS procedural drama in which he stars as a former CIA operative-turned-part-time detective. But even as “Instinct” indulges cop-show tropes, Cumming’s character nonetheless has made history as the first gay lead of a network drama.

“That’s massive, and insane as well,” he says on the set of the upcoming second season, somehow not sweating through his purple-checkered suit on one of the most humid days of the year. “Ladies in the street come up to me and say, ‘Oh, I love your relationship with your husband — I do hope you get to adopt a child,’ That’s really incredible. It’s quite a high-rated show on television on a mainstream channel. So I’m heartened that [reaction] doesn’t quite corroborate my worst fears about what’s happening in the country.”

Like many liberal New Yorkers, Cumming can still barely wrap his mind around Donald Trump, once the city’s favorite punch line, being the president. “It’s like electing Ronald McDonald or something,” he muses, though he doesn’t find it particularly funny. “We elect people to guide us morally and socially, as well as economically and politically, and we really fucked up this time!”

That brings our conversation back to his bar, which has a strict “no meanness” policy. “A lot of performers have said that it’s so great to have a space with that sort of downtown queer fusion,” Cumming says. “There’s not really been a venue like that in a while.” Lest this sound like he pines for the “good old days,” he’s quick to emphasize otherwise. “I feel that when people say, ‘New York was so much better and it’s changed,’ they’re really saying that they’ve changed, and they were so much better 20 years ago. What I love about Club Cumming and New York is that they’re constantly changing. That’s why we come here; that’s why we like it.”

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