Champagne Seasoned With an Amputated Toe

Your Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders
July 9 2013 10:15 AM

Sourtoe Cocktail Ingredients: Any Drink, Amputated Toe

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Photo bybyJohn Biehler

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The story of the Sourtoe begins with Captain Dick. A former cowboy, truck driver, and professional wolf poisoner, Dick Stevenson was poking around a cabin on the outskirts of Dawson City, Yukon in 1973 when he found a jar. Inside, preserved in alcohol, was a human toe.

Known for his madcap schemes—he boasts of having organized "the first nude beauty contest north of the 60th parallel”—the Captain wondered how he could best make use of the toe. Then, after several drinks, it hit him: cocktail garnish.

The Sourtoe, served every night at the Downtown Hotel since 1973, is Stevenson's enduring creation. Originally it adhered to a strict two-ingredient recipe: champagne plus pickled toe. Over the years, however, the Sourtoe rules have relaxed. Any liquid, alcoholic or otherwise, may now be used, but drinkers must abide by the official chant: "Drink it fast or drink it slow, but the lips have got to touch the toe." Those who accomplish the wince-inducing task receive a certificate of membership in the Sourtoe Cocktail Club.

The same toe is used for every drink—alcohol keeps it sterile—but incidents of accidental swallowing have resulted in a succession of donated toes. The first toe, amputated from a man's frostbitten foot in the 1920s, went down the throat of an intoxicated miner in 1980. Toe No. 2, donated when its owner developed an inoperable corn, went missing a short time later. A baseball player swallowed toe No. 3, another frostbite casualty, in 1983. Five toes have since been donated to the bar, the most recent arriving in a jar with a message: “Don't wear open-toed sandals while mowing the lawn.”

(Fair Warning: Do not scroll down if you do not wish to see a closeup of the toe!)

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Photo bybyJohn Biehler