Here at Voices in the Attic, we promise to bring you a regular dose of all things creepy. And I like to think we’ve made good on that promise. Today, however, I bring you something new. While you can still call it creepy, this story is one I think is just plain gross. So buckle up, readers, and allow me to tell you about one of Canada’s most hilariously disgusting traditions: The Sourtoe Cocktail.
As of 2016, Dawson City, Yukon held a population of 1,375 people. Despite this limited population, it draws tourists from all over the globe. All of this is due to a creative, crazy tradition, held within the Sourdough Saloon. The tradition involves joining “The Sourtoe Cocktail Club”, by drinking the club’s namesake.
The Sourtoe Cocktail is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a shot of alcohol with a human toe in it. The toe has actually been through several incarnations, all of which come with their own unique backstory.
The tradition began, as legend would have it, with a pair of brothers. Louie and Otto Liken were miners and rum runners during the 1920s. One day they were caught in a blizzard, and Louie suffered severe frostbite that ultimately cost him one of his toes. The brothers preserved the toe in a jar of alcohol as a way to commemorate their trip. It’s uncertain how it left their possession, but once it did, it ended up in the possession of Captain Dick Stevenson, in 1973.
Intending it as a joke, Captain Dick decided to start an exclusive club, which had only a single rule in order to gain membership: anyone who wished to be a member was required to drink the Sourtoe Cocktail. As he liked to say: “You can drink it fast. You can drink it slow. But your lips must touch that gnarly toe.” There weren’t any other specifications besides that. Some say that originally you had to drink the shot with whiskey, but these days it can be any kind of alcohol that’s 40% or higher. Most elect to drink the cocktail with Yukon Jack.
But sadly, the first toe was not long for this world. In 1980, a man named Garry Younger was attempting to break the Sourtoe record of most shots in one sitting. He made it through thirteen before his chair fell backwards, causing him to accidentally swallow the toe.
Not much is known about the second cocktailed toe, other than the fact that it was donated from somebody who had it amputated after discovering they had an inoperable corn.
The third toe, much like the first, was donated from a victim of frostbite, and also became the victim of swallowing from a saloon patron.
Toe number four mixed the legend up a bit, and was donated anonymously before later being stolen.
Both the fifth and sixth toes were donated to the saloon by an old patron of the saloon who wished to exchange his withered digits for a round of drinks for his nurses.
Toe seven was about as uneventful as toe number two, in that all anyone seems to recall about it is that it came from someone who had it amputated due to diabetes.
The eighth toe—and my personal favourite—was dropped off at the saloon in a jar of alcohol with a note that simply said: “Don’t wear open-toe sandals while mowing the lawn.” Important words for all of us to keep in mind! But this is not the only reason this toe is of particular interest. On August 24th, 2013, toe number eight met its demise when a man named Joshua Clark walked into the saloon and ordered, as many had before him, a Sourtoe Cocktail.
Clark was not the first patron of the Sourdough Saloon to swallow one of the toes. He was, however, the very first to do it intentionally. Upon ordering his shot, he promptly downed the whole thing, toe and all, and paid the $500 fine attached to the toe in case of swallowing, and then immediately left the bar. Because of him, the fine was subsequently hiked up to $2,500.
His actions also deeply angered Terry Lee—otherwise known as the Toe Captain: the man who oversees the drinking of each Sourtoe Cocktail—who then sent a search party after Clark and the toe, which was comprised of bartenders and regulars at the saloon alike, as well as, according to some, a few Hell’s Angels.
This search party never found Clark, however, and by the following morning, he’d left town. He was then permanently banned from the Sourdough Saloon.
Fortunately for the legend though, the saloon had two toes in circulation at the time, and Clark only swallowed one, so the cocktails were still able to continue. However, toe number eight was allegedly Toe Captain Terry’s favourite, and he was very displeased that not only was it stolen, but that the remaining toe was suffering from overuse and would, therefore, need to be replaced soon.
According to CBC, Clark felt so guilty about what he’d done that he eventually got in contact with the saloon, and willed his own big, right toe to them upon his death. Whether or not Clark intends to keep that promise remains to be seen, but nonetheless, the Sourtoe Cocktail is still in circulation today, awaiting the next brave souls willing to give it a kiss.
Perhaps you’ll even be one of them.
*This particular photo came from the blog of a woman listed simply as “Lady Hobo”. She’s clearly someone who’s been to the Sourdough Saloon, and I encourage you to read her article, The Sourtoe Cocktail Experience, because not only does it include facts not in my post (including the fact that the Toe Captain has a list called “The Captain’s Shit List” with names of past “Toe Abusers”), but it’s a really well written article.
Let me know in the comments down below if you’ve ever tried the Sourtoe Cocktail, or if you ever would!
Maggie Kendall spent the first fifteen years of her life furiously avoiding all things horror, but then her friend forced her to watch Paranormal Activity, and there’s been no turning back. She still checks the bathroom mirror for Bloody Mary before getting in the shower.