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3-min read

The Tippling Point | This Canadian Bar You Must Tip-'toe' Around, or Prepare to Pay $2,500

Sourtoe Club in Dawson City, Canada, will garnish your drink with a preserved human toe, and ask you to shell out $2,500 dollars in property damages in case you swallow it.

Manu Remakant |

Updated:October 6, 2019, 1:41 PM IST
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The Tippling Point | This Canadian Bar You Must Tip-'toe' Around, or Prepare to Pay $2,500
Former UK Marine commando Nick Griffiths is reunited with the toe he donated to Sourtoe Cocktail. (Image: Twitter/@SourtoeCocktail)

News18 Tippling Point“You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow—but the lips have gotta touch the toe.”

You'd be wondering why this absurd rule would ask a man to bend double, that too after a shot of liquor, to get his lips to touch his toe. Don't worry, you need not have to go that far.

The toe you look out for is inside the glass you hold, garnishing your whiskey! Yuck! I can see you recoil, throw the precious drink away along with the toe! But if you’re in Dawson City, Canada, don't do it! You won’t be playing by the rules of the Sourtoe cocktail club.

But, don’t worry, the human toe at the bottom of the drink is kosher (at least according to local tradition).

Cut to Northern Canada.

When Nick Griffiths, a British ultra-marathoner, was stranded in some snowwhereland in North Canada, it took hours before the authorities could rescue him. They were obviously late.

Unfortunately, not all of Nick Griffiths would return to England, doctors at the hospital ruled. They would have to cut off his frost-bitten toes. But Nick insisted he wanted to take home his toes at any cost, even if he had to carry them in his duffel bag instead of his shoes.

Back in England, whenever he looked at the jar kept by his bed, he would sigh and think about a bar in Dawson City he had visited during his adventure trip to Canada.

Soon Nick wrote a long letter to the bar announcing that he would send them his precious goods.

Hearing the news, people at the Sourtoe club were excited. Until then most of the toes used for garnishing carried scars of diabetes or some other pestilence. Frostbite is fresh, isn't it! It was the stuff of legends that the first toe ever to arrive at the bar was detached from its owner due to frostbite.

Patrons of the club were soon told about the new arrivals: Two toe fingers, first preserved in snow, then secured in a jar of spirit, and now kept in a salt chamber at the bar!

Within weeks, Nick Griffiths got an invitation from Sourtoe, "Could you drop in for a drink?"

Temptation irresistible. Drinking whiskey with your own toe!

It was in 1973 that the weird tradition was born in Dawson City. Around fifty years ago, a miner and rum runner named Louie Liken lost his toe due to frostbite. He fondly put in a jar of alcohol to preserve it.

Captain Dick Stevenson, a local of Canada’s Yukon Territory, stumbled upon the jar of curiosity while cleaning the backyard of his bar, and bought it down to the saloon. He challenged the patrons whether they were courageous enough to drink from a glass that was garnished with the toe. Thus, the Sourtoe Club was formed.

Even when suspended in a glass of liquor, people just can’t bear to keep a toe away from the human body, the Club soon learned.

Louie Liken’s legendary toe, the original, was accidentally swallowed by a customer who was on his thirteenth glass of Sourtoe champagne. The chair tipped over, he lost his balance and fell on his back. It was a hard drink to swallow! And the toe was lost forever.

But under the generous patronage of toe-enthusiasts, the club survived the loss. The next toe came in, thanks to a corn which the doctors failed to excise from the flesh. The third toe was once again swallowed. Fourth one was stolen. The eighth arrived with a warning: "Don't wear open sandals while mowing the lawn."

On one evening in 2013, a man opened the half door, strutted in, placed an order for a Sourtoe shot, quaffed the drink, along with the toe! He tossed $500 on the table as the cost of the lost property and walked off.

Soon, the fine for damage or loss of the beloved, albeit revolting garnish was raised to a whopping $2,500.

Again in June 2017, the toe was stolen, but the thief was kind enough to mail it back to the bar.

Today, toes at the Sourtoe bar are preserved in salt, which removes moisture (without water, pathogens fail to get into the flesh, which is the logic). All sorts of drinks are topped with the tiny foot-fingers. The rule is simple: "the lips have gotta touch the toe.”

Ready for that?

(Manu Remakant is a freelance writer who also runs a video blog - A Cup of Kavitha - introducing world poetry to Malayalees. Views expressed here are personal)

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