A History Lesson With Booze ®

The Cold War ‘Red Phone’ Isn’t Really a Phone

Cold War communiques between Washington and Moscow were dangerously slow. Leaders agreed to establish a "hot line" - but it wasn't the red phone you've heard about.

MAXIM MARMUR / AFP / Getty Images

The History Lesson

Slow telegraph service could have led to nuclear holocaust.

This was in October 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Which – for those of you who didn’t pay attention in history class – was triggered when the U.S. learned the Soviet Union was building missile sites in Cuba. America blockaded the country, and the world feared nuclear war.

Negotiations were tense, and very delicate. And to make matters worse? Communication between D.C. and Moscow took forever. Phone lines weren’t secure enough. And telegrams could take hours to be encrypted, translated, and delivered.

So after the crisis everyone agreed it’d be a good idea to set up a speedier system, to help leaders communicate in emergencies. On August 30, 1963, the Moscow-to-Washington “hot line” went live.

No, it did not consist of two red phones. In fact, the hotline’s designers didn’t want leaders to chat in real time. There could be translation problems, or heated misunderstandings. Instead, each side got special teletype machines, which zipped written messages straight to official translators. Our first test message? “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’s back.” Because it contains every letter in the alphabet. The Soviets fired back a description, in Russian, of a sunset.

Since then, the hotline’s undergone several upgrades: in the ‘80s it consisted of Fax machines and today, the two sides use email and chat programs (presumably not to send each other cat videos).

The Booze

The “Red Telephone”

Photo credit: Elana Lepkowski, stirandstrain.com
Photo credit: Elana Lepkowski, stirandstrain.com

Mixed up by Bar Manager Gabriel Apetroaie of Mari Vanna, a Russian bar in Washington, D.C.


  • 2 ounces seaberry-infused vodka
  • 3/4 ounce St. Germain liquor
  • 1/2 ounce lime juice
  • 1 ounce orange juice
  • 1 ounce cranberry juice
  • 3/4 ounce grenadine


Shake ingredients together and strain into glass. Garnish with a slice of orange and cherry maraschino.