People do the craziest things. Just look at reality television.
But who am I to judge? I joined the ranks of over 74,000 other nut jobs who’ve downed the famous Sourtoe Cocktail in Dawson City. (If you haven’t heard, that’s a whiskey shot garnished with a desiccated human toe.)
What can I say? I’m a sheep.
A Little History
The origin of the Sourtoe can be traced to the 1940’s. Legend has it that Otto and Louie Linken, two Yukon rum-runners outside of Dawson City, had been trapped in a blizzard. Louie, contracted frostbite and as any loving brother would, Otto chopped off the offending toe with an axe. Preserving it for posterity, they plopped it in a jar of alcohol.
Fast forward to 1972, Dawsonite Captain Dick Stevenson, finds the pickled toe and has a light-bulb moment. A stroke of twisted genius. Why not put the toe in a glass of champagne and charge people to drink it? (I know. Utterly insane.) The hook: to complete the challenge, the toe must touch their lips. He went to a friend’s bar (today it’s at the Sourdough Saloon in the Downtown Hotel) and together they agreed to see who would bite (figuratively speaking). The first year, eight brave souls manned up and the World Famous SourToe cocktail was born. Years later, on a warm Saturday night in July, I became the 73,478th wackadoodle to join the club.
Me and The SourToe Cocktail
I’d read about the Sourtoe while researching my trip. From all the coverage online, which far outdid any other mentions of Dawson, it seemed to be the City’s calling card, which in retrospect is a shame considering there’s so much more this remote town offers.
I told myself I wasn’t going to do it. I thought it was a bizarre marketing ploy reminiscent of a bad fraternity stunt. But once there, when my travel companions said they were taking the challenge, I faced two choices: be the biggest party pooper ever or join in.
I ordered a shot of Yukon Gold and got in line.
The Big Moment
It was nearing 11pm and my turn was just a few cocktails away. Ahead of me were my two friends and a couple of strangers lined up in front of a table on the bar’s mezzanine.
My eyes roamed over the signs tacked on the red-flocked wallpaper behind it: “73,425 served.” “Man the Feck up! It’s the Sourtoe Cocktail!” Guests were warned not to swallow the toe or face a $2500 fine. (If you don’t believe someone would do ever do that, someone did. On purpose. Again, people do crazy things.)
Terry Lee, Dawson’s longtime Toe Master, a slight, wrinkled, white-haired old man with a scraggly beard, a sea captains hat, and glasses, looked as cinematic as one could hope for the occasion. Taking his responsibilities very seriously, he asked each person their name, dutifully writing it down on a certificate, verification of the person’s entry into the SourToe club—assuming the effort was successful.
I sat down whiskey in hand. Between us sat the digit, resting on a large pile of salt. Shriveled and brown (a second toe perhaps?) it looked like a skinny date. That’s not so bad, I thought. I’d imagined a flesh-colored big toe. That would have freaked me out.
The Toe Master looked at me with dead seriousness, his piercing eyes locked with mine.
“Are you ready, Susan?”
“I am!” I countered.
He picked up the toe. Circling it in front of my eyes and said, “You can drink it fast. You can drink it slow. But your lips must touch this gnarly toe!”
Oh heck.. here’s the video…
Surprisingly, I had fun. Would I have done it on my own? Hell no. But with friends capping a night out it was a worthwhile endeavor. The kind of experience travel is all about. And not taking myself so seriously, well, that was good too.
How you can take the Sourtoe challenge
During the summer, you can take the Sourtoe challenge every night between 9pm and 11pm at the Sourdough Saloon at the corner of Second and Queen in the Downtown Hotel.
The cost is $5.00 Canadian plus whatever drink you choose to go with it. Most order whiskey. I can vouch for Yukon Gold (also only $5.00 Canadian). It’s very smooth.