Leonard Cohen Made the Perfect Summer Cocktail

Tequila. Cranberry juice. Lemon.

August 2, 2019 11:05 am
The Leonard Cohen cocktail is delicious (Courtesy Jarkko Arjatsalo, The Leonard Cohen Files)
The Leonard Cohen cocktail is delicious (Courtesy Jarkko Arjatsalo, The Leonard Cohen Files)

It takes a lot to get me to walk even a few blocks in New York City when the temperature rises above 85. Walking is basically impossible due to the combination of sun beating down on you and tourists walking ever so slowly as they take selfies. And the subway isn’t a great option either — even our mayor, who has been MIA most of this summer, doesn’t like to take the subway. When it’s hot out I tend to understand why. It’s probably the only time I sympathize with Bill de Blasio.

But I digress. The whole point of me complaining about having to go 40-something blocks from InsideHook HQ to the Upper East Side is so I can say that, despite the heat, I went to the Jewish Museum and tried Leonard Cohen’s signature cocktail, the Red Needle. It may turn the dog days of summer around.

Of course, the notion of anything having to do with Leonard Cohen improving the summer is absurd: he’s most known for his brooding, baritone voice, his poetry, and songs that were goth before goth was even a thing. Sometimes that reputation is unfair, but usually it’s not. Cohen was a deep, spiritual and complex man, but he was also funny and one of those people who you think about as having really lived their life.

So it makes sense that, in 1975, in Needles, California, he came up with a cocktail using tequila, cranberry juice and lemon stirred and served over ice. Nice and easy. If you’re going to be a great poet and singer-songwriter, one who lives on a Greek island for a few years and then a Buddhist monastery after that, at some point you need to master a cocktail. The Red Needle, while simple, is perfect for hot days, like the Paloma’s tortured cousin. I bought one immediately as I entered the museum, before taking in the exhibition Leonard Cohen: A Crack in Everything (which was excellent — very moving and very much worth a trip up to Museum Row). I took my drink downstairs to the Russ & Daughters cafe, and sipped it as Cohen’s songs played over the speakers.

I’ve been a Cohen fan for most of my life, and as I sipped the cocktail that was a little heavy on the cranberry and lemon (it’s a museum — they don’t want you getting hammered), I wondered if I was really enjoying my Red Needle so much because of my fandom or because it’s actually delicious? I’ve been dabbling in summertime cocktails made by people who don’t work at fancy cocktail bars or that I didn’t get out of an old book. I like the simplicity of trying something like Jackie O’s bodyguard’s take on a Negroni. It’s so easy to forget just how perfect an imperfect cocktail can be, one that doesn’t really take things like measurements or flavor profiles into account. I’ll take refreshing and delicious over some drink that takes several different ingredients and 20 minutes to make, especially in the dead of summer. But would I actually go start making Red Needles myself?

A few hours later, as I made a late-night run to the grocery store for lemons and cranberry juice, got home and cranked up “Passing Through” and made myself a nightcap, I had my answer. I’m officially putting the Red Needle in my summertime cocktail rotation.


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