Mexico’s Mezcal, with its famous worm, is no match for our northern neighbor’s novelty drink – the Sourtoe Cocktail. The former comes with one worm in each bottle; the latter comes with one amputated human toe in each drink.
Dawson City’s Downtown Hotel, in the heart of Yukon Territory, has been proudly serving the Sourtoe Cocktail since 1973, when local riverboat captain Dick “River Rat” Stevenson found a severed big toe in a pickle jar.
Stevenson’s original rules for joining the Sourtoe Cocktail Club still ring in the late night hours at the hotel saloon – “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but the lips have gotta touch the toe.”
The purist version of the cocktail is very simple – Yukon Jack whiskey is poured into a rocks glass. The bartender then fishes out a human toe from a dry salt pack and drops it into the glass. If you successfully down the drink, bottoms-up style, so that the toe ends up resting on your lips, you become a member of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club.
Of course, some show-offs like to grab the toe and hold it between their teeth, before spitting it back into the glass. After the drink is consumed, the bartender repacks the toe into salt, where it is stored until the next order. Here’s a video of some people enjoying the Downtown Hotel’s house drink.
Upon downing your first Sourtoe Cocktail, the witnessing bartender presents you with a membership certificate and your name is entered into the club register.
The Sourtoe Cocktail costs only $5 Canadian. The saloon assures partakers that the toe is sanitary, having been pickled in medical alcohol for several months before being packed in salt behind the bar.
Currently, the Downtown Hotel’s saloon has 8 severed toes, which provides a comfortable backup supply. The original (a big one) was swallowed accidentally in 1980. By then it had inaugurated 725 members to the club. Since then other toes have been lost to swallowing accidents. Still others were removed from service after having become to unappealing because of bite-mark damage.
Because little toes tend to cause more swallowing accidents, the saloon now prefers donations of big toes only. Most donors are proud to advertise their philanthropy. There is Steve White the chain-link fence installer, the trapper who lost his to frost bite, the woman with the in-operable corn, etc.
River Rat Stevenson takes the Sourtoe Cocktail Club very seriously. It’s been agreed that when he dies, he will be cremated, and his ashes will be stored in a toe shaped urn on the saloon bar. He claims it is one of his two greatest accomplishments. The other being the nude beauty contest held on an island in the mighty Yukon River.
Dawson City has a storied history going back to the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896. The city is mentioned in a number of Jack London stories, including Call Of The Wild.
However, River Rat Stevens, now 82, laments that the old Dawson City is disappearing. He recently told the Wall Street Journal: “Things are really going to hell . . . It’s still a frontier, but not like it was. At this point, you can’t get away with this stuff.”
So, during the upcoming holiday season, let’s all lift a glass and make a toast wishing that Dick “River Rat” Stevenson’s creative juices produce some more interesting stuff that we all assumed you can’t get away with anymore.