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DAWSON CITY, YUKON - WHAT TO DO, EAT AND DRINK

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Downtown Hotel patron with Sourtoe Cocktail toe
Downtown Hotel patron with Sourtoe Cocktail toe
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Yukon poet, Robert Service, wrote about strange things done under the midnight sun.

In Dawson City's Downtown Hotel, we witnessed one of the strangest — visitors lining up in its Sourdough Saloon to imbibe Sourtoe Cocktails. The key ingredient is a dehydrated human toe, complete with toenail.

As the bartender chants: "You can drink it fast. You can drink it slow — but your lips must touch the toe," patrons swig down the cocktail to the cheers of onlookers.

"The whisky was the worst part," stated one lady. (The $10 price includes the whisky and a certificate to show disbelievers at home.)

A hotel guest guzzled down the first Sourtoe Cocktail in 1973 after a local named Captain Dick found an amputated frostbitten toe in a jar of alcohol inside a cabin. Since then, 70,000 members have joined the Sourtoe Cocktail Club.

Member of Sourtoe Cocktail Club displays certificate
Member of Sourtoe Cocktail Club displays certificate
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Two people have swallowed the disgusting digit, either accidently or deliberately. They were charged a hefty $2,500 and given a lifetime ban from the bar. The Sourdough Saloon eagerly accepts donated toes, especially big ones, which are harder to swallow.

Did we drink a Sourtoe Cocktail? No. (Ahem, the line-up was too long.)

Robert Service cabin

We visited the log cabin once owned by poet Robert Service, author of verses such as The Spell of the Yukon. Each summer, a costumed guide recites his poetry and shares stories about Service's life.

"Robert Service once dated Pierre Berton's mother," he told us. Today, Berton's little white house is used by rotating writers-in-residence.

Diamond Tooth Gerties
Diamond Tooth Gerties
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Time travel

The wooden boardwalks, Dawson General Store and Dawson Trading Post made us feel as if we were in a Klondike movie set.

During the Gold Rush, Dawson was the largest city north of Seattle and west of Winnipeg, with a population of 30,000. From the Midnight Dome summit, we viewed the city of 2,158 people at the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers.

Diamond Tooth Gerties

Dawson City's saloons and brothels enticed prospectors to spend their gold. Bombay Peggy's, Yukon's last operating brothel, is now a respectable inn featuring Victorian décor.

Diamond Tooth Gerties, a re-created 1898 saloon, is Canada's oldest legal gambling hall, offering blackjack, roulette, poker and slot machines. (The community reinvests all proceeds.)

As the honky-tonk piano-player accompanied Diamond Tooth Gertie and her high-kicking can-can girls, we thought about the gold-seekers lured to the Klondike to find their fortunes.

Two ounces of gold in pan
Two ounces of gold in pan
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Striking it rich

Prospectors still search for gold in the Yukon. About 80 mines are small family-run businesses.

At Claim 33 Gold Panning, we joined other visitors lined up by water troughs to swirl pans of gravel. The owner showed us a pan with two ounces of glimmering gold. Our pans yielded only a few specs.

We viewed the largest bucket-line, wooden hulled dredge in North America beside Bonanza Creek. For 60 years, the four-storey machine dug up the earth for workers who extracted gold.

Dredge No. 4 National Historic Site now rests near the spot where it stopped operating in 1960.

Klondike Kate's
Klondike Kate's
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Klondike Kate's

Panning for gold worked up our appetites. Klondike Kate's serves great smoked chicken and ribs in a Gold Rush-era building.

Built in 1904 as a grocery store, it became the Lucky Inn Café in the 1930s and Klondike Kate's restaurant in the early 1980s. It now has log cabins for overnight guests.

Who was Klondike Kate? Born as Kathleen Rockwell in Junction City, Kansas, in 1876, she arrived in Dawson City, the Paris of the North, as an entertainer. She passed away at the age of 80 in 1957.

Braeburn Lodge's big-as-your-head cinnamon bun
Braeburn Lodge's big-as-your-head cinnamon bun
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

How to get to Dawson City

If you're hungry while driving from Whitehorse to Dawson City on the Klondike Highway, stop at Braeburn Lodge for one of their "big-as-your-head" cinnamon buns. We didn't finish our icing-topped roll until breakfast the next day.

Air North flights from Whitehorse to Dawson City are a faster way to get there. Flying time is 75 minutes.

Energetic visitors can paddle kayaks, canoes and rafts along the Yukon River to Dawson City. In the early twentieth century, passengers traveled by boat from Whitehorse to Dawson. It was faster than the five-day Dawson Trail overland route between the two cities.

In Whitehorse, you can tour the S.S. Klondike, a restored sternwheeler that is now permanently docked beside the Yukon River.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Klondike Visitors Association

Tourism Yukon

More things to see & do in the Yukon:

Yukon Tours by Train, Car, Canoe and Plane

What to See and Do in the Yukon

How to Get to Fort Selkirk Yukon - What to See on Walking Tours