Crime & Courts

Human toe served in Dawson City’s famous Sourtoe Cocktail is stolen

Terry Lee is toe-tally angry.

"I've got to watch my temper," Lee said Tuesday as he explained the recent theft of a dehydrated human toe from the Downtown Hotel Sourdough Saloon in Dawson City, a town in the Yukon roughly 65 miles east of the Alaska-Canada border.

Lee works at the hotel bar as the "toe master." He said he takes care of the bar's donated human toes by day, preserving them in rock salt, and by evening, he plops a digit into the bar's signature Sourtoe Cocktail, serving up the drink to paying customers.

But over the weekend, one of the bar's donated cocktail toes disappeared. It was a second toe — the one next to the big toe — to be exact, Lee said in an interview Tuesday.

Lee said a man walked into the bar Saturday night and sometime after midnight ordered a signature Sourtoe Cocktail — a shot of alcohol garnished with a human toe. When the bartender turned her back, the man walked out of the bar with the toe, according to Lee.

"We have a name. We have two witnesses," Lee said. "This guy is in deep trouble."

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police confirmed Tuesday that officers were investigating the toe theft. Coralee Reid, an agency spokeswoman, said police had made no arrests by Tuesday afternoon, nor had they recovered the toe. She declined to discuss details of the case, including the identity of the suspect, citing an "ongoing investigation."


The Downtown Hotel posted a "Missing Toe" flyer on its Facebook page Tuesday afternoon, asking anyone who had information on the location of the "Sourtoe" to call the business. It's offering a reward.

Even though the hotel is short one toe, Lee said it will continue to serve its famous cocktail.

The bar has received several toes through anonymous donations, he said. Some are pledged to the bar in wills and others have come from people who had toes amputated for one reason or another.

The toe that disappeared over the weekend was curled downward — a deformity caused by hammer toe and the reason the donor had to have it amputated, Lee said. With that toe now missing, the bar has only one other toe that's up to snuff.

"We have one other toe that we can serve," Lee said. "The others are too small, they'd be a choking hazard."

The Sourtoe Cocktail dates back decades, according to Lee.

As the story goes, a rum runner in the 1920s preserved his amputated, frostbitten big toe in a jar of alcohol. Years later, the toe was found in an abandoned, Dawson-area cabin by Dick Stevenson, a former Yukon riverboat captain. The Sourtoe Cocktail was founded in 1973, Lee said.

Since then, 71,328 Sourtoe Cocktails have been served, he said.

Lee said the cocktail comes with one key rule: "You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips have gotta touch the toe."

The bar hands out a $2,500 fine to anyone who swallows or steals the toe. It increased the fine to its current figure after a man swallowed the toe on purpose in 2013, slapped the $500 (the fine at the time) on the table and left.

Lee said he remembered at least two occasions in the 1990s when the bar lost a toe to theft. But both times, the toe was returned, he said.

Lee said he hopes the most recent missing toe finds its way back. Donated toes are, after all, hard to come by and they're a big money-maker for the bar. The cocktail brings in about $80,000 in gross revenue a year, Lee said.

Tegan Hanlon

Tegan Hanlon was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News between 2013 and 2019. She now reports for Alaska Public Media.