It clung to the glass by a piece of petrified, black flesh. As Hannah Fleace shook the glass, it jiggled mercilessly, refusing to drop to her lips as the challenge required. When it finally freed itself, she almost inhaled it in surprise. Fleace had been warned not to swallow it. It was the bar’s seventh toe after all.
Last summer, Hannah Fleace was an intern at the Skagway News in Alaska. After spending three consecutive days reporting on a team from Skagway as they participated in the Yukon River Race, she and her co-workers decided to celebrate by taking the famous Sourtoe Shot.
The race ended in Dawson City, Yukon, Canada, an old gold rush town home to the internationally known shot with a very special ingredient.
“It’s a dead human toe that’s been dehydrated and preserved in salt,” Fleace said.
The idea of the shot was presented to Fleace by a local from Juno, Alaska. At the time she assumed she wasn’t going to be in Dawson at all. Plus, she said, the idea struck her as repulsive.
On their way to Dawson, Fleace’s editor mentioned they would be close to the toe shot. After that realization, she said, they worked to get themselves excited to partake in the bizarre tradition.
“We had gone to the casino earlier that night and some other bars, so it was kind of the culmination of this, like, ridiculous event that happened,” she said.
The toe placed in Fleace’s drink came from a woman who said she made the unfortunate mistake of mowing her lawn in flip flops. She decided it was a good idea to mail her amputated toe to the bar along with a note that advised against making her same error in judgment.
Fleace said people come from around the world and pay to have the toe dropped in their glass of Yukon whiskey inside the Sourdough Saloon.
The historic saloon is located in the Downtown Hotel in Dawson. The bar was regal, classy compared to the dingy bars most people frequent today, Fleace said.
The building was supported by columns and had multiple levels that were all connected to the same open atrium. The bar itself was fully stocked.
While Fleace was there, the bar was crowded, mostly with locals. Her group of eight people contributed to the feeling of a building almost at capacity.
When Fleace sat down, the man administering the official shot walked her through the rules. If you swallow the toe, you owe them twenty-five hundred dollars.
“He said, ‘You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips must touch the toe,’” she said.
The man finished his instructions. He dropped the toe into her glass. Fleace took the shot, the alcohol disappearing quickly down her throat. She didn’t feel the toe. It was stuck to the glass. Finally, it was freed and dropped to her lips.
“It was cold, and kind of had the texture of a raisin,” Fleace said. “And it’s black as death with a yellowish toenail.”
Fleace set the glass down so the barman could squeeze the excess fluid out of the toe. She said she thinks it was the most disgusting thing she’s ever seen. That didn’t stop her from tossing it back like the rest of her co-workers.
The excitement Fleace and her co-workers experienced was not universal. She said her mother wasn’t exactly proud of her accomplishment and her boyfriend, Joey, decided he was not going to kiss her anymore.
“So we all did it. We all got certificates. It was a proud day,” Fleace said.