Booze thrillseekers bored with the normal fare have another option, thanks be to a man named Captain Jack and whomever pickles toes. Via The Wall Street Journal, in the Yukon Territory there is a very special drink served at the Downtown Hotel's Sourdough Saloon, in Dawson City. It has a special rhyme that goes with it (stop reading here if you are easily disgusted): "You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow. But the lips have gotta touch the toe."
Yep. This is a drink (any drink, choose your booze, toe is $5 extra) "garnished with a preserved human toe," writes Ryan Sager. It is called the "Sourtoe Cocktail." Crowds of "tourists, trappers and miners" drink it nightly, apparently, as by day they are busily, "chasing down Dawson's new gold rush." All these eager new prospectors mean for heightened attention to this cocktail of yore (it's been around nearly 40 years), ordered and consumed to prove one's true Yukon cred. You get a certificate if you can handle it. There's a club for those who do.
But, whether you manage to drink the drink and "touch the toe" or not, a certain amount of credit must be given to those who even read the story. (Note: This is not the first time the toe has been discussed; it made the pages of GQ earlier this year in a story about, ostensibly, the new gold rush. Wells Tower writes that "the toe, a big one, is authentically revolting.") Not a surprise! Here is the drink's provenance, via Sager:
The idea was born in 1973, when riverboat captain Dick "River Rat" Stevenson found a severed big toe preserved in a pickle jar in a cabin outside of town. Capt. Dick, as he is known, says he came up with the original rules for the drink over the course of a drunken evening with friends: take a beer glass full of champagne, drop in the toe, tip the glass back…and the toe must touch the lips. In September 1973, eight people participated in the first attempt; nearly four decades later, the Sourtoe Cocktail Club has an estimated 100,000-plus members.
In answer to the obvious questions: The toe is not unsanitary given the pickling it endures in medical alcohol. Capt. Dick, still alive at 82, hopes someday to have his ashes put in a toe-shaped urn (he bought it and sent it to Dawson City) in the Saloon. Drinking the drink has garnered an expected range of reactions from "This is the coolest thing I've ever done," (Levi Wiebe, 23) to "I got it in my mouth a little," (Caleigh Miller, 30) to "It tastes like plastic," (Chris Quickfall, 19). And some, of course, would never deign to drink it at all, but will lie, lie, lie, to anyone who asks.
Also, yes, this happened:
"We've had people throwing up, we've had people gagging on their drinks," says Dick Van Nostrand, manager at the Downtown Hotel. Real trouble, however, is when someone gets overenthusiastic. "You never know when some fool is going to do something stupid," Mr. Van Nostrand says. "And then we'll be without a toe."
That means swallowed. When that happens, others are donated. The wild frontier, it is wild. And there is absolutely zero accounting for taste.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.