“Had frostbite? We want your toes,” read an advertisement for Downtown Hotel, in Dawson City, Canada.
Nick Griffiths, an adventure racer who had recently suffered frostbite while attempting the Yukon Arctic Race, had three toes amputated. And he remembered that ad.
Griffiths kept his toes in a small alcohol-filled jar at his home in Bolton, England, while he pondered how to get the toes to Canada. Finally, he decided to simply mail them. When it was time to declare the contents of the envelope he was sending to Dawson City, he hesitated, understandably, as he told the Guardian. “I couldn’t think of anything. I didn’t want to just blatantly lie and say it was a candle or whatever.”
He wrote down “novelty gift” and sent the digits on their way.
Once at the Downtown Hotel, Griffiths’ toes, like those before his, will be the centerpiece of the “Sourtoe Cocktail.” A simple drink, it consists of an amputated toe, blackened by frostbite, floating in a shot glass full of whiskey. Canadian, presumably.
“We couldn’t be happier to receive a new toe,” the Hotel said in a statement. “They are very hard to come by these days.”
The hotel has served the drink since 1973. These were the first “new” toes they’d received since 2013, however. There are strict rules about toe usage. They must be medically preserved in alcohol. They must be in reasonably decent condition, for a rotting toe. Once approved, the toes are stored in rock salt for six months before they can be used in the drink. If ordered and consumed, the customer gets a certificate of achievement. Their lips must touch the toe.
Legend has it that in the 1970s a boat captain discovered the amputated toe of a miner who’d kept his digit floating in a jar of rum since the 1920s. The captain quaffed the rum, and possibly the toe, and, inspired the Sourdough Saloon—the bar in the Downtown Hotel—added the macabré drink to their menu.
In summer, the bar will serve some 50-100 Sourtoes each night. As long as the toe was brined in salt long enough, and at least 40 percent alcohol is used in the cocktail, it’s perfectly safe to drink, according to local medical authorities.
The bar has a rotating cast of 5 toes, which people occasionally attempt to steal. They are especially happy to receive frostbitten toes. Particularly big toes. “That’s the money toe,” says Terry Lee, the bar’s toe expert.