Dawson City is a Yukon town of less than 2,000 people that, until recently, was best known for being a base during the 19th-century Klondike Gold Rush. In the Downtown Hotel resides a pub, the Sourdough Saloon!
Now, you might not think a saloon in a small town of 2,000 people would be a big deal, but they have a claim to fame that has put Dawson City back on the map, so to speak. They serve a drink called the “Sourtoe Cocktail”, a shot of whiskey with a toe submerged in it. Yes, folks, I said a TOE. A real toe … a human toe. The drink is served only between 9:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m., and it involves a challenge. The drinker is to down the whiskey until the mummified toe actually touches his (or her) lips. If he does this successfully, he/she is awarded a certificate and becomes a member of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club. I’m not sure what the membership benefits are, or if one must renew their membership annually.
The roots of the tradition are said to date back to the 1920s, when a rumrunner lost a toe to frostbite on his way to the Alaskan border and preserved it in a jar of alcohol. Captain Dick Stevenson found the preserved toe in the 1970s and took it to the Downtown Hotel to dare people into drinking shots with it. The bar’s slogan is: “You can drink it fast, you drink it slow, but your lips must touch the toe!”
But, last Saturday night, someone stole the toe!!! A customer came in and ordered the cocktail after the 11:00 cut-off time. Normally he would not have been served, but there was a new staff member, and she served him the drink. According to bartender Terry Lee, the man who took the toe was from Quebec, had a French accent, and had earlier bragged about his plans to steal the mummified appendage. The thief also reportedly left behind a certificate earned for drinking the cocktail, which features his name.
The stolen toe was not the original that was donated by Captain Stevenson, but was the newest addition to their collection, donated by a man who had had to have his toe surgically removed. After curing it for six months in salt, the staff had only begun adding it to drinks last weekend. “This was our new toe, and it was a really good one,” said hotel manager Geri Coulbourne.
At least eight other toes have gone missing over the years, some stolen while others have been swallowed. The original toe belonging to the rum runner was accidentally swallowed by a miner after seven years at the hotel, giving rise to another tradition: the hotel’s constant search for toes!
“Got frostbite?” reads an advertisement on its website, which goes on to promise that those who donate toes will be “immortalised in the Sourtoe Hall of Fame”. The hotel said it had received 10 donated toes – big toes are preferred – over the years, including a few that were left to the establishment through wills.
Mr. Lee said, “We are furious! Toes are very hard to come by. And stunts like this adversely affect the whole community, not just the Downtown Hotel. We fortunately have a couple back-up toes but we really need this one back.”
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are investigating: Those with information about the missing toe are encouraged to contact Dawson City RCMP at 1-867-993-2677. Since they have his name, it shouldn’t be too hard to find him. A reward is being offered.