The Sourtoe Cocktail Experience in Dawson City
Start cleansing your palate, my trendy libation lovers.
There’s a new drink in town.
Introducing: the Sourtoe Cocktail! The cocktail du jour of the Yukon Territory.
Sorry, a what?? What exactly is in that?
Glad you asked. It’s NOT a regular cocktail. In fact, you can get your Sourtoe Cocktail with any kind of alcohol you like, as long as it’s over 80 proof.
Okay, so, like what is it?
To be blunt… a shot of your favorite booze, garnished with a real human toe.
Why would anyone drink that?!
Not totally sure, but probably the same reason we are fascinated with shows like Jackass and Fear Factor and we loved playing Truth or Dare as children.
Gross. Where do they get the toes?
The toes are donated… by people who are missing toes.
Working in Alaska last summer, I had certainly heard of Dawson City, but I hadn’t given it much thought. One day, seemingly out of nowhere, an Alaskan friend said, “I think you would really love Dawson!”
The next time I had a little downtime at work, I pulled up the Googles: Dawson City.
First up: I read the entire Wikipedia Page about Dawson. My interest with piqued.
Okay, so maybe it became sort of an obsession.
I spent the rest of the summer trying to figure out how to get out there. But with no personal vehicle on hand in Alaska and limited days off, I wasn’t able to swing it.
Then one day, magic happened: “Wanna road trip back to the lower 48 with me at the end of the season?”
“Can we go to Dawson?!”
And that was that.
Until a different friend mentioned that she tried to go to Dawson at the end of September last year and the border was closed. Apparently border crossings are seasonal in the Yukon Territory.
If that border crossing was closed, going to Dawson would be a pain. It would still be possible, but it would add roughly 16 hours of driving to an already substantial road trip and would, in all actuality, probably not be worth it.
I looked to Google for answers once again. There, I found an actual phone number for the border crossing and a real person answered after only a few rings. “We’re planning on being open until September 25 this year… unless something crazy happens before then.
I assume “crazy” meant bad weather, but for now, it meant I was finally heading to Dawson City!
We left Denali the afternoon of the 21st of September and made it a mere two hours north to Fairbanks. After dinner in some sketchy, you-can-still-smoke-inside bar, and a night at the Westmark, we started the eight-hour drive to Dawson City.
We rolled off the ferry and into Dawson with the flatest of flat tires, checked into the sketchiest of sketchy hotel rooms, and in conjunction with the bartender at the Pit (the infamous Dawson bar that also served as the lobby of the aforementioned sketchy hotel) made a plan for our one night in Dawson.
1 Drinks at the Pit
2 Sourtoe Cocktail at the Downtown Hotel
3 Cabaret show at Gertie’s
4 After party at the Pit
Step one was already well under way by the time we even made the plan… which meant one thing: it was time to “do the toe.”
We walked into the Downtown Hotel and took it all in. For a place known for toe drinks, I would dare to say it was… classy. I bellied up to the bar and said the magic words:
“Uh, can we do toe shots?”
“Oh, are you going to be here tomorrow? I just put the toe away for the night,” she replied, all business as usual.
Nooo! What if we drove all the way to Dawson and didn’t get to “do the toe.” My buddy had wandered off to the restroom. How could I tell him?
“Just tomorrow morning,” I offered. I mean, what a way to start the day, but I guess we could do a shot of whiskey with a human toe in it first thing in the morning… couldn’t we?
Luckily, she agreed to retrieve the toe.
We sit down on the bar stools.
There is a designated Sourtoe Cocktail table, but the Captain only works seasonally, so we were able to cut through some of the red tape.
Wait, the who?
That’s right. The Sourtoe Captain. It’s a job, I guess, if you live in Dawson City. You wear an official uniform, and your sole job is to dish out Toe Cocktails… making sure that everyone follows the rules. Also, you must read each inductee the Sourtoe Oath.
There are rules??
Yes. Your lips much touch the toe to officially earn your way into the Sourtoe Cocktail Club, BUT, the toe must not go in your mouth in part or in whole.
You can drink it fast or you can drink it slow, but your lips have got to touch the toe.”
Uh, yeah. Why would anyone do that?
I dunno. You should probably ask Josh. A man named Josh from New Orleans swallowed the toe in 2013. On purpose. He paid the fine (then, $500) and walked away. The Captain now refers to him as “the Cannibal.” Because, LITERALLY. Rumor has it Josh came back to Dawson City this past summer to make peace with the Captain and formally will all ten of his toes to the Downtown Hotel upon his death. The letter is signed, framed, and now hangs on the wall of the bar.
The fine is now $2,500 for a swallowed toe.
Toes aren’t the easiest thing to acquire on short notice.
So then what?!
The bartender sets the rules down in front of us. But we’ve done our research: we already know.
She pours two glasses of Yukon Jack, one for each of us.“Who’s going to go first?” she asks us. We look at each other, unsure. “I will,” my buddy says. The black toe is plunked into his drink.
She proceeds to read the Sourtoe Oath (it really must be done). And he’s off. Boom! A hit on the lips.
It’s gross. It’s real. And it’s happening.
In a conversation about the toe I had had in Alaska, someone had likened the toe to a piece of jerky. I don’t remember who said it, but I would like to formally thank them, because if you think of it as a piece of jerky, the whole idea is a bit more palatable.
Whatever you do, try not to think about the toenail. *Thinks about toenail*
And that was that. Our official Sourtoe Cocktail Certificates were signed and we were congratulated and given actual membership cards. I now have mine in my wallet at all times.
We had a few more drinks to wash the whole toe thing out of brains and then headed to Gertie’s for a show.
Our Sourtoe bartender joined us as she said she would. And introduced us to others. The end of September is an interesting time in Dawson. It’s way past peak tourist season, but there are just enough stragglers (like us) to keep the shows going.
The show was fun, the crowd was rowdy, and they sell pizza by the slice, so I have zero complaints.
By the end of the night, we had a whole crew of friends and naturally, we all headed back to the Pit for celebratory dancing until the wee hours of the morning.
Anyone else a member of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club?? Would you dare?
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