Lonely Planet Writer

A British adventurer is donating his amputated toes to a bar in northern Canada

A British adventurer who lost his toes to frostbite is making the best of a bad situation by donating them to a bar in northern Canada.

The Sourtoe Cocktail is a big attraction for visitors to the city. Image by Jean-Francois Bergeron (Enviro Foto)

If you’re asking yourself what a bar wants with a couple of amputated toes, well, they’re going to mix it into a cocktail for people to drink. The Downtown Hotel in Dawson City, a small town in Canada’s Yukon Territory, is famous for one of its very unique drink offerings, the “sourtoe cocktail”. It’s a glass of booze, usually whiskey, with a mummified human toe floating in. People go to the hotel, buy a drink and take part in an official ceremony to become part of the “Sourtoe Cocktail Club”.

The Downtown Hotel is home to the famous Sourtoe Cocktail. Image by Jean-Francois Bergeron (Enviro Foto)

The bar manager at the Downtown Hotel, Jonathan Klynkramer, explained the history to Lonely Planet, saying the legend behind the first sourtoe dates back to the 1920s, when a rum-runner named Louie Linken and his brother Otto ran into a blizzard while making a delivery. Louie accidentally soaked his foot, but since they feared getting caught by the police, they kept going. Unfortunately, Louie’s big toe was frozen solid. To prevent gangrene from setting in, Otto amputated the toe with an axe – with some rum for anaesthetic – and the brothers decided to save the toe in a jar of alcohol. Years later, the toe was found by Captain Dick Stevenson when cleaning out an abandoned cabin. The Sourtoe Cocktail Club was then established in 1973, along with the classic rule “you can drink it fast, you can drink it slow—but the lips have gotta touch the toe.” Since then, the club has received more than 13 toes by donation and counts more than 77,000 members.

But the current drink doesn’t use Louie’s original toe, they’ve been through a few. Even last year, the toe was stolen by a patron – who later felt guilty enough to mail it back and call the hotel to apologize. The bar currently uses two larger toes in rotation and a few smaller ones that are reserved for emergency purposes.

A mummified human toe. Image by Jean-Francois Bergeron (Enviro Foto)

In comes Nick Griffiths, who competed in the 300-mile Yukon Arctic Ultra race earlier this year. But the incredibly low temperature meant that Griffiths was pulled out of the race after developing frostbite. The damage was so severe that he was told he would lose some of his toes. Klynkramer explained that Griffiths then reached out about donating them to the bar. “We’ve reached out to Canada Border Services to check on the legality of having the toes enter the country from abroad. As soon as we’ve confirmed that we’ll figure out whether Nick can mail the toes or if we can find someone who’s willing to transport the toes personally to the Yukon.”

While it all might sound a bit crazy to outsiders, Klynkramer said they usually get a phone call about toe donations every month or two, but often it’s difficult to tell whether people are serious about donating. But, if you are serious about becoming a key ingredient in the bizarre drink, he says the best way to get in touch is via email.