People who grew up west of the Mississippi often have wildly disparate notions of what Florida is actually like. Some envision a posh, pastel-soaked paradise, others a tacky, sweaty dystopia.
Orlando-born brothers Micah and Matthew Ellis deny nothing about their homeland's confounding reputation. At their neon-hued micro-lounge, Sweet Nothing (4330 N Mississippi Ave., 503-841-8345), the art deco tourism posters and wall-sized painting of a glowing sun make the intended vibe obvious. But don't expect Jell-O shots or Vengaboys on the stereo. This is a Florida-themed bar, not an homage to Spring Breakers.
Considering the palm-leaf wallpaper and soundtrack of gentle tropicalia, Sweet Nothing will inevitably earn comparisons to Palomar, the Cuba-meets-New Orleans spot that opened on Southeast Division in the spring. But Sweet Nothing's diminutive size does wonders to strip away the highfalutin air that suffocates Palomar on a busy night. You'll end up chatting with the bartender about that one weird guy you knew who dropped out of college to repair roofs and do a bunch of coke in Pensacola, and that bartender will probably recommend a subtle deviation on the fantastic house daiquiri ($10), which uses a proprietary rum blend to add a gently smoky finish to a drink that's profound in its simplicity.
The menu is replete with highbrow adaptations of trashy delights, alchemizing gauche ingredients—including a housemade approximation of Southern Comfort—into gold. The Green River ($12) is a magical concoction that uses Midori, Hpnotiq and fresh cucumber to cool the astringent burn of aquavit and Lillet Blanc. It's a combination as bizarre and colorful as the Sunshine State itself.
You'll probably drink one drink too many, which is fine, because Sweet Nothing also sells stellar drunk food, like a beef citrus ropa vieja ($14), a Caribbean mac-and-cheese pie ($8) and a housemade interpretation of Taco Bell's Crunchwrap Supreme that drifts on and off the menu at random. It may feel like a mistake the next day, but anyone who's actually been to Florida knows damn well you're not doing it right unless you regret most of it shortly after.