Downtown Hotel in Dawson City, Yukon

Downtown Hotel in Dawson City, Yukon

by Sourtoe Linda (Aksomitis)
That’s right–I’ve got the right to call myself a Sourtoe–even have a piece of paper issued by the Yukon Order of the Sourtoe Club to prove it. The Sourtoe Club was started in 1973, and my certificate, dated March 3, 2006, is numbered 20874, so I’m far from the first–or last–sourtoe!

Exactly how do you get to be a Sourtoe? Well, it’s not for the squeamish or weak of spirit (spirits however,  consumed in great quantities, do make the whole process easier to take). My liquor of choice was peppermint schnapps, a strong enough flavor to hide whatever taste the pickled toe in the shooter glass might have. Indeed, the sourtoe is a REAL human toe, complete with a brown-stained, cracked toenail and a few hairs.

The process is simple. Your ounce of alcohol is poured into a shot glass over the sourtoe. You, the inductee, need to down all the fluid while being carefully observed to make sure that the toe comes in contact with your lips as you drink. There is, of course, a chant and ceremony, as spectators all watch to confirm (or deny) the drinker’s claim to have touched the sourtoe.

This notorious Yukon Order of the Sourtoe Club was founded by Captain Dick Stevenson. Why? In response to a dare of course–what other reason could there be?

Legend has it that Stevenson discovered the petrified remains of a human toe under the floorboards of an old miner’s cabin on the Sixtymile River. The toe made the rounds of local saloons, until someone dared Stevenson to stop flapping his lips and use them to prove himself by putting them to a drink with the sourtoe in and swallow it instead. As chance would have it, a newspaper reporter happened to be present, and the legend was born.

Captain Dick, owner of the Downtown Hotel, carries on the tradition. The toes, which only a few brave (crazy) souls have swallowed, are donated by people, mostly Yukoners, who lose a toe to some calamity, such as frostbite. The Sourtoe induction ceremony takes place in the Downtown Hotel’s lower level, in the Sourdough Saloon.

 During Trek Over the Top sleds fill the streets in front of the Downtown Hotel

During Trek Over the Top sleds fill the streets in front of the Downtown Hotel

The Downtown Hotel, as you might imagine with the Sourdough Saloon, is a happening place in Dawson City. During the 2006 Trek Over the Top, when I visited Dawson, it was our central location, where we knew we could sit down for an hour and always find either a friendly local Yukoner, or visiting Trekker, to talk with.

As well as activities that might not suit the faint-of-heart, the Downtown Hotel also provides a classy dining room that rivals any hotel. In the Jack London Diner, on the hotel’s main floor, you can expect to fine white linen and candles, along with some great food. I had the Arctic Char, a local favorite, and highly recommend it.

Jack London, who the dining room is named for, was a writer who brought the spirit of the Yukon to the World. His most well known book is Call of the Wild, although he wrote over 50 novels and stories. London, an adventurer born in 1876 in San Francisco, landed in the Yukon in the winter of 1897 and found his own kind of gold in the Klondike Gold Rush, when he began publishing.

Along with bringing the wild to life, London also was an activist somewhat ahead of his times. One of the most publicized figures of his day, he supported socialism, women’s suffrage, and eventually, prohibition. He was among the first writers to work with the movie industry, and his novel The Sea-Wolf became the basis for the first full-length American movie. He was also one of the first celebrities to use his endorsement for commercial products in advertising, including dress suits and grape juice.
Downtown Hotel in Dawson City

The Downtown Hotel is a great place for fun!

The Downtown Hotel is a great place for fun!

The name, Jack London Diner, seemed to fit right into the Downtown Hotel!

Of course, one of the key things people look for in a hotel is a comfortable place to sleep. We weren’t disappointed on that point either! Our room was one of the 34 in the main part of the Downtown Hotel, which was renovated in 2002. Although we didn’t visit the Annex, which has an additional 25 rooms, glass roof atrium, courtyard, and jacuzzi, we certainly heard about the fun other Trek Over the Top participants had!

During other parts of the year, when visitors don’t seem to be just on snowmobiles, the Downtown Hotel offers a limousine service to the airport and transportation around Dawson City. Mind you it’s only a block or two to some of Dawson City’s other attractions, including Diamond Tooth Gertie’s gambling hall.

So, when you check in to the Downtown Hotel, tell them Sour Toe Linda sent you!

For More Info:

Make a reservation at the Downtown Hotel:

Find out more about Trek Over the Top at:

Find out more about Jack London:

Copyright September 2006 by Linda Aksomitis

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