Southern Pacific Brewing on New Year's Eve 2021. Photo by Anlan Cheney.

Debbie McConihe was behind the bar at Southern Pacific Brewing Co., prepping for the New Year’s Eve crowd, when she explained the difference between a Manhattan and an Old Fashioned to this reporter.

It’s sugar, bitters, and bourbon or whiskey with an orange peel for the latter. For the former, it’s rye or bourbon whiskey, vermouth and bitters, all garnished with an orange peel or Maraschino Cherry.

The Manhattan is McConihe’s go-to. And if, like her, you’re not too fond of sweet drinks, you’ll probably opt for the peel over the cherry.

“I do enjoy making a really solid cocktail,” she said, but she has to be ready for more than the old standards. The adventurous and knowledgeable are “always coming up with new variations of different drinks, or something slightly different but it’s a completely different name.”

As an alternative to memorizing everything, there is a brewery “cheat sheet,” she said, but “phones also are really helpful.”

McConihe has been bartending at the brewery since April, and balances her shifts here with another job as a cocktail waitress.

At the brewery:

Originally from Pennsylvania, she came to San Francisco to study documentary photography nearly 18 years ago and stayed. She currently makes her home in the Outer Sunset. Nowadays, photography is a hobby and she works full-time behind a bar or serving cocktails. 

For New Year’s, the brewery had extra “barback” help, which is like the equivalent of a busser for table service; someone to help keep things stocked, organized and running smoothly. She prepped a few extra supplies, like fresh juices and fruits, just in case.

McConihe likes that “there’s always something to do, so you can stay busy,” as well as the plentiful opportunities to “interact with different kinds of people,” from locals to tourists.

“There’s a lot more work that goes into it than just making drinks, but it is fun,” she said. 

There are the simple pleasures, too. “I really enjoy being able to pour a beer just, like, really well,” she said.

Her version of a weekend is Monday and Tuesday and, when it’s her turn to go out in the Mission, she relies on the nearby trio of Doc’s Clock, Homestead and Bender’s.

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"Annie" is originally from Nebraska, where she found her calling to journalism as editor of her high school newsletter. Before returning to the field, she studied peace and political science in the Balkans, taught elementary and middle school, and worked as an epidemiologist during the COVID-19 pandemic. Follow her on Twitter @anlancheney.

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