The Sourtoe Cocktail is just that, a cocktail garnished with an actual preserved and pickled human toe. The drink is found at the Sourdough Saloon, inside the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City, Yukon, Canada. Patrons who accept the challenge of the Sourtoe Cocktail must finish the toe-garnished drink of their choice and allow the toe to touch their lips in order to successfully complete the challenge.
Those who have completed the challenge become members of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club. The rules of the challenge have not changed since 1973; the toe may pair with any drink, but the challenge is not complete until the drink is finished and the toe has touched the lips of the patron. Members of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club sign a logbook and receive a certificate to take home, as proof of their bravery.
The Sourdough Saloon is one of two restaurants in the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City. It’s known for its turn of the century décor and swinging saloon doors. In addition to the famous Sourtoe Cocktail, there is a full menu of food items. The restaurant can host up to 105 people and is available for special events. Rooms may be booked at the adjoining Downtown Hotel, which is operated by the Canada’s Best Value Inn chain.
The small Canadian town of Dawson City is famed for its link to the great Klondike Gold Rush. Today, there are just over 1,000 permanent residents.
History: Legend has it that in the 1920s, a miner and rumrunner, Louie Liken, lost his toe to frost bite, and kept it preserved in his home as a keepsake. In 1973, 50 years later, Captain Dick Stevenson, known locally as an “eccentric,” found the toe as he was cleaning out Liken’s Yukon cabin. The captain brought the toe to the saloon and began plunking it into people’s drinks. After a drunken evening with friends, the rules of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club were formed, and the recordkeeping began. Today, upwards of 40 people may join the club on any given night.
Swallowing the toe is not allowed, although it has happened. The very first toe was lost in 1980 when local miner Gary Younger accidentally swallowed the toe as he fell backwards in his chair while downing his 13th glass of Sourtoe champagne. Additional accidental swallowings have occurred over the years, and one toe was stolen. In total, 8 different toes have graced the Sourtoe Cocktail. Amputated toes have arrived at the saloon due to diabetes, inoperable corns, and frostbite. Two toes were donated by a local in exchange for free drinks for his nurses. One toe arrived anonymously in a jar of alcohol with a note warning not to mow the lawn in open-toed sandals.
In 2013 a man accepted the $500 fine and purposely swallowed the toe, thus marking the first and only time that the toe was swallowed on purpose. The man, known only as “Josh from Louisiana,” had been working in the area for the summer, and swallowed the toe on his last night in town. After the incident, the Sourdough Saloon raised the fine for toe swallowing to $2,500. It hasn’t been purposefully swallowed since. Since the inception of the tradition, over 100,000 people have joined the Sourtoe Cocktail Club.
What’s Nearby: Dawson City is known as the site of the famous Klondike Gold Rush, in which close to 100,000 people moved to the Yukon Territory of Canada within the 3-year span of 1896–1899, all in search of gold. Although the city itself is quite small, it’s home to eight of Canada’s National Historic Sites. The Downtown Hotel in Dawson City is within a block of the nearby Dawson City Museum, which educates visitors on the history of the area. Also within just one block is the Yukon River and Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall. The casino is the oldest in Canada and has been open since 1971. It is the only Canadian casino in which patrons may drink alcohol and gamble in the same room, as well as enjoy live entertainment. Daily vaudeville shows take place May through September at the casino and are a throwback to Gertie Lovejoy, a famous Gold Rush era dancehall star who had a diamond between her two front teeth.
1026 2nd Ave, Dawson City, Yukon Y0B 1G0, Canada, Phone: 867-993-5346