The Yukon is a place of extremes. It is one of the last vestiges of the truly wild and free. From breathtaking beauty to harsh winters, it takes some moxie to make it in Canada’s Far North. The brave ones who call it home have to work hard and play hard too…sometimes in the local Klondike bars. If you’ve got what it takes to make it in the rarefied air of Dawson City, there are plenty of shenanigans afoot* in these Klondike bars.
When a resident of the town inexpertly hacked off his brother’s frost-bitten toe and popped it into a bottle of whiskey, I’m sure he had no idea that it would, many years later, give birth to a bizarre drinking ritual: the Sour Toe Cocktail. Now, many toes and tens of thousands of drinks later, the Sour Toe Challenge is a Dawson City must. For a small fee, the brave can order a drink into which the toe is ceremoniously plopped. In order to qualify for a certificate and join the dubious Sour Toe Club, that little piggy has to touch the drinker’s lips. You can read our brave tale of doing “The Toe” here.
This cathouse turned cocktail bar is a riot with a drinks menu that is a long way north of boring. This restored Victorian brothel sports nine rooms all furnished with antiques. The inn was originally located in the town’s north end and one of its most notorious owners was Bombay Peggy; so named after rumours that her wartime boyfriend would drop gifts for her from the bomb bay of his plane.
In the spring of 2000, when current owner Wendy Cairns took over the inn, the building was sinking into the swamp. When the workers came to tear it down for reassembly at its current location on Princess Street, they said the aroma of perfume came wafting out of the walls, as the ladies had bathed the inn in perfume every night to attract passersby.
The Westminster Hotel is an interesting establishment with an eclectic (and racy) taste in art. It has the distinction of featuring two bars: the tavern opens just after breakfast (affectionately known as the ‘snake pit’) and closes early while the lounge (aka the “arm pit”) takes care of the late night revelers. And so it is that many a resident has entered through the snake pit at 9.30am and exited through the arm pit at 2am the next day.
This is a bar where locals go to get their hootenany on and maybe find a friend to warm the cold nights (their official slogan is ‘the romance capital of the Yukon’). As one local commented: “In the pit, your odds are good, but the goods are odd.”
A visit to Dawson City is a good time guaranteed. Go out of season for a more authentic experience and a chance to meet the colourful locals — to my mind the most wonderful thing about the Yukon.
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The writer was a guest of Travel Yukon. The tourism board did not review or approve this article.