By on November 10, 2015


Things didn’t sound quite right at the Pelly Crossing filling station in the middle of the Yukon Territory. The gurgle of the fuel I was pumping down the filler neck had a frothy note, reminiscent of the sound of filling up one of the diesel pick-ups I’ve owned over the years.

I smelled the nozzle before I hung it up and, at precisely the instant my nose processed the “Diesel-you-idiot” warning, my eyes focused on the word DIESEL on the side of the fuel pump.

To say I felt stupid was an understatement. The gasoline-powered Chevy Blazer I’d rented from National Car Rental in Whitehorse obviously would have to have its tank drained and the delay would cut the heart out of the six hours of daylight that mid-December offered at this latitude. It might even disrupt overnight plans at Bombay Peggy’s, a renovated former brothel in Dawson City, where Lisa had reserved the Lipstick Room.

“There’s a silver lining though,” I tried to be upbeat, as I confessed the fueling blunder to Lisa. “It’s Friday the 13th and this should be enough of a screw-up for clear sailing at Bombay Peggy’s along with my quest to be ordained into Captain Dick’s Sourtoe Cocktail Club.”

Lisa realized how sheepish I felt. The affable lady at the service station told me lots of people had filled their gasoline cars with diesel fuel there. Her boyfriend David had the day off and could be on the scene in a few minutes. He had helped out some of the other ‘fuel losers’ here on the Klondike Highway between Whitehorse and Dawson City, just south of the Arctic Circle.

David arrived and after two hours of coaxing we managed to siphon most of the fuel out of the tank. We refilled with gasoline and headed out into the afternoon twilight.


We arrived in Dawson City, a town of 1,900 people that was once the largest city west of Winnipeg and north of San Francisco. Bombay Peggy’s turned out to be a lovingly restored Inn that had once been a bustling bordello. After 535 kilometres of icy roads, snow squalls and the diesel fuel fiasco, the friendly hosts and lush appointments of the Lipstick Room were a welcome change.

After an hour of rest, the Sourtoe Cocktail beckoned so we left the cozy hotel and moseyed across town to the Sourdough Saloon located in the Downtown Hotel. The streets were deserted. The lonely sound of our boots on the wooden sidewalk reminded me of a cattle rustler heading to the gallows in a 1950s western movie. What had I gotten myself into with this Sourtoe Cocktail?

The Sourdough Saloon wasn’t much livelier than the wintry streets of Dawson City. Three locals sat at a table hunched over glasses of draught beer. Lisa and I approached the rustic bar a few stools down from the only other patrons, a grizzled couple whispering sweet nothings to each other.

“What would you like?” asked Donna Nickerson, the chatty bartender.

“We came for the toe,” Lisa replied. The locals looked up from their drinks.

“The toe or the full foot?” Donna went on to explain that the full foot consisted of 5 toes rather than just one big toe.

“Just the toe.”


I felt a lump in my throat and considered bolting back to the comfort of the Lipstick Room. Donna produced a small crock, undid two metal fasteners and pulled the top off, revealing a mound of coarse salt.

“Now I gotta dig for it,” she said with a smirk.

There was no doubting what it was: a hefty-sized big toe, nail and all. My stomach heaved as Donna explained that the drink I chose should not have any ice in it. I wondered if the toe would sink or float. When she plopped it into a glass of water to rinse off the salt, I averted my eyes.

“After I put it into your cocktail, I have to see the toe rubbing against your lips as you drink.” She seemed to enjoy the ritual.

My last thought before imbibing was to wonder if it was poisonous, but surely I would have heard about Sourtoe casualties on Fox News or seen bizarre headlines splattered across the front cover of a National Enquirer at a supermarket checkout somewhere.

I tipped the drink back and eventually felt the grotesque digit rub against my top lip. The more I drank, the more toe pressure I felt.

“No one can take it from me now,” I thought as Donna declared me “Sourtoed”. I thought I heard a sole handclap. It was over. What taboos had I violated?


On the walk back to Bombay Peggy’s, I examined the authentication certificate Donna had presented me. I was Club Member #12,224. There was a web site where non-believers could get more information. I smiled to myself thinking that kissing a cod in Newfoundland had nothing on this Yukon ritual.

My mind drifted to the cozy Lipstick Room just as Lisa assured me my toe-touching lips were not high on her list of priorities. I slipped my arm around her shoulder trying to warm things up.

“Your sleeve smells like diesel fuel,” she muttered.

I looked at my watch. Ten-fifteen. It was still Friday the 13th.

Garry Sowerby is a veteran, adventurer, long distance driving world record holder and automotive writer who just so happens to also deliver press cars to TTAC’s Mark Stevenson and Timothy Cain. Sowerby can usually be found holding a ticket for his next flight when he’s not driving. When he’s doing neither of those, he makes time to write stories like the one above from his newest book, “Driven Mind,” available now for $20 CAD plus $10 CAD S&H

On Thursday 12 November, Sowerby will launch his book at a press conference in Whitehorse, Yukon then, on Friday the 13th, he and his wife, Lisa Calvi, will head to Dawson City and attempt to not replicate the events of that Friday the 13th in 2002.

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35 Comments on “Bombay Peggy’s and the Sourtoe Cocktail...”

  • avatar

    As much as I enjoy this at lunch time, my main concern would be the other people who have touched and fingered the toe, and had it against their gingivitis mouths and herpes lips. Not with the ancient toe itself.

  • avatar

    I never had the chance to try the sour toe. I’ve been through Dawson City and Pelly Crossing once. It was around this time of year too.

    In that part of the world putting the wrong fuel in your vehicle can have more dire consequences than a dead toe in your drink.

  • avatar

    When Audi released the R8, they did a cross-Canada Audi performance tour. I got to drive an RS4 and V10 S6, and then Mr. Sowerby was taking people for rips in the R8.

    Thought it was a neat car, though the RS4 has always been a dream car of mine, and I would have one over any flavor of R8 hands down.

    I also got a copy of his then most recent book, “Sowerby’s Road.”

  • avatar

    Did the filling station have a gasoline nozzle on a diesel pump for some reason? Usually the diesel nozzle is bigger than the aperture on an unleaded-fuel gasoline car’s filler neck.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Interesting story, but I need to go dry heave now.

    Driving through these parts on a good long road trip is on the bucket list, but I would rather siphon diesel out of my tank and skip the breath mint than put an amputated digit in my cocktail.

  • avatar

    That sure looks like a bicycle rack in front of Bombay Peggy’s. I don’t know what else it could be. But I’m not sure what the need for it is. I’ve put ~70,000 miles on bicycles in my life, but I don’t know that I’d even own one if I lived in Dawson City. And if I did, I doubt that I’d ride it to Peggy’s!

  • avatar

    Not with your ten foot pole!

    Never drank a worm at the end of a bottle of tequila, either, though I have gotten to the bottom of a few bottles.

    Even drank the local historic predecessor to tequila, pulque, in the state of Guerrero.

    Shortly after I got a riproaring case of turista, though I will never know if it was related to the pulque, to the fact that I wasn’t eating enough really hot food to keep away the turista, or because I believed a resort that said that its lettuce was washed in distilled water, and presumably was safe to drink.

    I suspect the latter, and that the lettuce WAS NOT safe to drink.

    I even understand the Angels’ concept of red wings, though that is as far as I am going to go in reveal mode.

    And I have chewed some raw cactus in my time, and have eaten mushrooms you would need a guidebook, not a cookbook, to identify. Never got sick from either of those adventures. (Though a good friend ate some wild mushrooms his father was SURE were safe, and they both got VERY ill for days, and nearly died. A very nice guy, but his face kind of had a permanent look of someone who had had a front row seat to a Stephen King circus.)

    But I don’t care how many people didn’t get any germs from that toe, hell, I’m not even going to lick my own big toe, I’ll be double dipped in sheepdip if I would ingest that even on a bet. Like I said, “not with YOUR ten foot pole.”

    Interesting story, but it sounds basically like the “grownup” variant of a 12 year old kid picking his nose for lunch, if you get my drift.

    ¡No way, José!

    Fortunately for me, I finished dinner several hours ago. Though this story really should have come with a disclaimer at the front: “Warning – contains graphic depictions of drinking alcohol that was simultaneously embalming a dead man’s toe.”

  • avatar

    Ugh….I’d be less worried about the diesel than the toe. Feet are gross.

  • avatar

    I’m opening up a competing bar next to Bombay Betty’s in Dawson City soon, but I’ll have three novelty drinks of choice:

    1) The lost-due-to-frostbite testicle,

    2) The lost-due-to-frostbite clitoris,

    3) The lost-due-to-frostbite taint.

    • 0 avatar


      “I’m opening up a competing bar next to Bombay Betty’s in Dawson City soon, but I’ll have three novelty drinks of choice:

      1) The lost-due-to-frostbite testicle,

      2) The lost-due-to-frostbite clitoris,

      3) The lost-due-to-frostbite taint.”

      Volando, I got a chuckle out of your joke too

      • 0 avatar

        It’s not necessary to quote an entire comment in the reply.

        • 0 avatar

          I sincerely respect any counterpoint you have, but this is the unvarnished truth as it see it. Keep people divided into cliques of their own making in order to keep them neutralized

          • 0 avatar

            Easy now, we’re on a different article. First I thought your reply here was another victim of TTAC’s unfortunate comment system, then I realized my words were easily misconstrued as a reply to your Vonnegut in the other thread.

            FWIW, I do prefer collectivism over pure individualism.

          • 0 avatar

            You’re right, my bad.

  • avatar

    @DeadWeight I noticed you haven’t named your bar yet. I’d like to suggest that you call it “Your Nuts!”.

    There is/was a bar/restaurant in Richmond VA called the Texas-Wisconsin Border Cafe. Lots of good food. One favorite they took off the menu was Texas Oil Field Beans. Got to get a recipe.

    But where I am headed here is that it waw owned by a couple of VCU art school professors, and one of the things that they had hanging in the bar was a sign from a barber shop, along with a barber pole.

    The sine was a hand-painted original that read: “Your Nex”.

    I could probably bat 2 out of 3 at your joint, DW, provided you were careful about how you sourced #3.

    That toe is just plain nasty though. Guess it must be the air in Alaska or something.

    A guy from the lower 48 goes to Alaska, and ends up in a bar like that one. He asks what he must do to be a real Alaskan.

    So they tell him he has to chug a fifth of 180 proof grain alcohol, kill a polar bear, and have sex with an Eskimo woman.

    So he chugs the grain alcohol and roars off into the night.

    A few hours later he comes back in the door, and he looks like he has had his hands full, to say the least, for the last couple of hours.

    The firest words out of his mouth are: “Now where is that Eskimo woman I’m supposed to kill?”

    Doing my best to help keep vaudeville alive.

  • avatar

    ….And Blue Wings , White Wings , so on and so forth….


  • avatar

    Some enterprising Russian pub could make a killing doing this with Rasputin’s preserved banana

  • avatar

    How many times you suppose the toes been swallowed?

  • avatar

    So what does one get for the full foot?

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