Dawson City - Home of the Sourtoe Cocktail

Dec 31, 2017

In honour of Canada’s 150th anniversary on July 1, we’re bringing you 150 Travelzoo Tips — one per day until July 1 — to help you explore and enjoy this great land. For tip 140, travel writer, photographer and consultant Jim Byers takes us to the Yukon. Read more from Jim at JimByersTravel.com or follow him on Twitter or Instagram.

There’s something about folks who live in tough climates that I just love. They have a sense of independence and a do-it-yourself attitude I find highly appealing. And they don’t come much tougher -- or more colourful -- than in Dawson City, Yukon.

Last time I was there I met a farmer who grows organic crops on the far side of the Yukon River and lives off the grid, using solar power and a windmill to get things done. Imagine that during a Yukon winter. I also met a woman who owns a food truck called Aloha Tacos. It’s pretty close to authentic Mexican, and the tacos are both delicious and colourful. I also fell in love with Alchemy Cafe, which has great coffee and a real community spirit.

Photo: DawsonCity.ca

There’s a colourful history to Dawson City, thanks in part to the “women of the evening” during the gold rush. You can learn about some of the madams’ stories on a fun walking tour of the town offered by Parks Canada. At one point, locals ran the working women out of town. One enterprising madam set up shop on an island in the Yukon River. To get there, men would have to cross a bridge. Dawson City being a small town, everyone who saw the men crossing the bridge knew where they were going, so a local kid started renting fishing poles to the men so they could claim they had other reasons to head to the island.

But Dawson’s best story is a custom that’s repeated pretty much every night at the Downtown Hotel. In the 1970s, in an old cabin near town, someone found a preserved toe in a jar. The owner had lost it to frostbite, cut it off with rudimentary tools and tossed it, naturally, into a glass container filled with alcohol. After the gruesome discovery, a group of folks -- no doubt fuelled by some lively spirits -- decided to invent something called the Sourtoe Cocktail. [The name is a pun on Sourdough, the name you earned if you lived in the Yukon for a year.] It consists of a shot of liquor (your choice) over a preserved human toe. If you drink it all and let the toe touch your lips, you’re given a certificate and made a member of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club.*

The toes (there have been about 10 of them) have come from various folks over the years, including someone who had suffered a lawn mower accident. A few years ago, some crazed tourist ingested the toe, forcing the hotel to come up with new rules that strictly forbid such foolishness.

Folks line up every night to drink their Sourtoe Cocktail and get initiated into the club. You gotta love Dawson City.

*Editor's note: The toe made headlines when it was stolen, then returned by a nefarious cocktail customer, who signed his apology note: "One Drunken Fool."

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