“PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION.
I DON’T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB
THAT WILL ACCEPT PEOPLE LIKE ME AS A MEMBER”.
(Groucho Marx‘s telegram to the Friar’s Club of Beverly Hills)
Every respectable club, college fraternity, or student group has its specific initiation, a trial the aspiring members have to overcome in order to boast the title of belonging to that community. But of all the bizarre rituals necessary to enter these elites around the globe, none is more unlikely than the one at Sourtoe Cocktail Club in Dawson City, Canada.
Dawson City is a town with a population of little more than 1.300 souls in Yukon Territory, and was once the center of the Klondike Gold Rush; so much so that wirter Jack London chose it as the environment for several short stories and novels, including The Call of the Wild (1903). Today, it’s mainly a touristic and naturalistic destination, where you can explore old mines, go trekking, visit some historical museum and, if you brought your pan, try to find some gold nuggets at Bonanza Creek.
And then, of course, you could head to the Downtown Hotel, at Second Avenue and Queen Street, and try to become a member of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club. Actually, the club is not as exclusive as it may seem: in the course of the last decades, it earned from 60.000 to 100.000 members. The club’s admission trial has in fact become one of the most renowned city attractions.
So, what is this ordeal all about? How do you become a member?
Step 1 – Come down to the Sourdough Saloon and ask for Captain River Rat
Step 2 – Purchase a shot (most club members prefer Yukon Jack)
Step 3 – Pledge the ‘Sourtoe Oath’
Step 4 – Watch as a genuine human toe is dropped in your drink
Step 5 – Drink your Sourtoe Cocktail
You read that right, step 4 says “human toe”. But no worry, it’s mummified.
There is only one additional rule, the most important of all:
You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow,
but your lips have gotta touch the toe!
After carefully following the instructions, and guzzling down the cocktail with the unusual human toe garnish, you will be awarded a membership card and an official certificate that proves you are “capable of almost anything“.
The legend behind this strange tradition begins in the 1920’s. It is said that two rum runners, Louie Linken and his brother Otto, were crossing the border with a load of liquor, when they ran into a terrible storm. Trying to direct his dog team, Louie stepped off of the sledge, and right into an icy overflow. His feet got soaked with icy water, but the pair didn’t stop as they feared police was on their trail. The prolonged exposure to the cold made the unlucky smuggler’s big toe freeze completely. To prevent gangrene, after administering his brother a good dose of rum Otto amputated the toe with a woodaxe. To commemorate the event, the borthers then preserved it in a jar of alcohol.
In 1973, while cleaning a cabin, Captain Dick Stevenson found the jar and the toe.
But what use could a dehydrated and already mummified toe have?
Captain Stevenson extensively analyzed the matter with his friends, until they agreed that there was only one solution: a Sourtoe Cocktail Club had to be established. The original rules were pretty much the same as today, with the exception of the mandatory use of champagne in a beer glass for the infamous drink.
Unfortunately, the first toe lasted only for seven years. In July 1980, a miner called Garry Younger was trying to establish the Sourtoe record. At his thirteenth shot of champagne, his chair tripped backwards, and Garry accidentally swallowed the toe.
Someone could have thought that was the end of the Club.
Instead, since then the hotel has acquired around a dozen new toes, all given by generous donors so thath the tradition wouldn’t die out. The first non-original toe had been amputated because of an inoperable corn.; the second one was give by a frostbite victim (once again the toe was accidentally gulped down).
And then: an anonymous toe, which was later stolen; a pair of toes from a Yukon veteran, donated in exchange for free drinks for his nurses; a toe wich was amputated because of diabetes; and another anonymous toe which came in a jar of alcohol with a note that read: “Never wear open-toe sandals while mowing the lawn“.
Until not long ago, the fine for those who mistakenly ingested the toe was $500.
But in August 2013 a certain Josh from New Orleans entered the bar together with a couple of friends, ordered the Sourtoe Cocktail, and guzzled it down, toe included. Then he handled over the $500, before the dismayed staff had even had a cheance to say a word. It was clearly a bet with his friend, on his last day on a summer job in Dawson.
Luckily the staff already had a replacement toe. But from that day on, the fine has been raised to $2.500.
Today, only one toe is left. The Club staff therefore published an ad on the paper, and — as reported by ABC — is seems they already received some offers.
In conclusion, if you think you don’t have the stomach to become a member of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club, we suggest this clever workaround: you can always become a donor… and have your name immortalized in the Sourtoe Hall of Fame.