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Do Not Eat or Steal the Toe

July 5, 2017

Here’s the story of one of the most bizarre drinks in the world…and how its legacy may be threatened.

cocktailsIf you ever find yourself in the Yukon town of Dawson City, one thing you simply must do, if you can stomach it, is head to the Downtown Hotel for a Sourtoe Cocktail. It’s a simple drink, but it’s still quite the experience. There are just two ingredients: a shot of whiskey, and a real human toe. Tradition states that those who dare try the Sourtoe must touch their lips to the toe.

Why does the Downtown Hotel even do this? Back in the ‘70s, a Yukon man discovered a frostbitten, amputated big toe preserved in a jar of alcohol. (It belonged to a 1920s rum runner.) The lucky discoverer took it to the Downtown Hotel, and the rest is history.

Imbibers are not, however, supposed to eat, drink, or swallow the toe. First of all, that’s gross. Second of all, it’s incredibly hard for the Downtown Hotel to procure human toes. Third of all, doing so will significantly increase one’s bar tab. The stated fine for ingesting (or stealing) the world’s most disgusting cocktail garnish is a steep $2,500. The fine has increased by five-fold. It used to be $500, up until August 2013, when a man identified waltzed into the bar, ordered a Sourtoe, and gulped the whole thing down. He then threw $500 on the table and left; clearly he’d intended to swallow the toe all along.

That was the last toe the bar had… until a donation came through. A man had to have one of his toes surgically removed, and so he kept it and cured it in salt for half a year before donating it to the Downtown Hotel. It was ready to go in June 2017, and, tragically, it was stolen out of the bar by a Sourtoe drinker only a few days after it had gone into use.

Hotel employees think they know who did it, however. The night it disappeared, the bar was patronized by a man from Quebec who had been overheard talking about how he wanted to steal the toe; he later ordered up a Sourtoe, and now the toe is gone.

The Downtown Hotel threatened to both fine the man and press charges “unless the toe [was] returned safe.” Apparently the guilt and/or media attention got to the toe-thieving culprit. A few days later, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced that they’d received a call from the man purporting to be the thief. He confessed to the crime and said that he mailed the toe back to the Downtown Hotel. The mysterious “man from Quebec” also called the bar and offered his apologies. Sure enough, the toe (along with a formal, written apology) made its way back to Dawson City. The RCMP says that the toe was in “good condition” (or as much as a brown, shriveled, salt-preserved toe can be in “good condition”).

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