The DRIFT Experience, Pensacola Beach
With its refined coastal cuisine and beachfront views, DRIFT presents the perfect night out.
Have you ever sat on the beach watching boats quietly drift out of view while the fire-orange sun sets against a horizon of pink, purple, and blue? And for that brief moment, all you can hear is the water lapping up on the brilliant white sand? During those precious moments, you’re more present and relaxed than you have been all day.
Matt and Stacy LaFon envisioned a similar awe-inspiring sunset moment in Mexico when creating their concept for DRIFT, the trendsetting upscale dining experience on Pensacola Beach, perched above the Casino Beach Bar & Grille. Making DRIFT unique is the uninterrupted panoramic view of the Gulf from every seat in the house, be it deck or indoor seating. “We created the DRIFT experience as an embodiment to letting your worries drift away,” says Matt.
The DRIFT experience is about relaxing and enjoying the breathtaking natural view of the Emerald Coast while indulging on local and global flavors. In a climate where the atmosphere is as important as the menu, DRIFT redefines modern cuisine in a casual yet contemporary setting with small-plate offerings that are both different and distinct. Chef and director of operations and culinary arts John Lipkowitz is the creative mastermind behind the refined menu, boasting fusion cuisine consisting of crudo, prime steaks, and seafood. The DRIFT experience continues with a full bar brimming with spirits and craft cocktails, including the Cabo Cocktail, a blend of Stoli Lime vodka, Bigallet China-China, muddled kiwi and ginger, fresh lime juice, and soda water.
The modern beach-chic decor is as trendy and memorable as the food. Given that roughly two-thirds of the walls are all-glass, designers used various forms of lighting to help create a chill, coastal ambiance. “All of the ceiling light fixtures were critical to the design and branding of the space because there’s very little wall space due to the panoramic window views of the Gulf,” says Matt. The two replica driftwood chandeliers are standouts. “Ed Koehler, based in Naples, FL, is responsible for bringing the driftwood vision to life,” says Matt. “These pieces are extraordinary. I try to source everything as much as possible locally, but I couldn’t find just the right pieces to fit our brand.”
While the desire to source locally is commendable, Matt’s efforts within the community are the true testament to his character and spirit. “I was born and raised here,” he says. “This community means everything to me. I attended Gulf Breeze Elementary, Middle, and High School, and I’m an alumnus of the University of West Florida. We partner with several local schools in support of fundraising and community events. We also work with the Baptist Healthcare Foundation, Gulf Coast Kid’s House, and many more organizations along the Gulf Coast.”
DRIFT’s second-floor location makes it possible to enjoy both casual dining and refined cuisine. “Guests can walk up from the white sands of Pensacola Beach in board shorts and flip-flops and enjoy drinks and island music at Casino Beach Bar & Grille, or make a reservation upstairs at DRIFT and enjoy a more upscale culinary experience with unparalleled panoramic views,” says Matt. Designed to promote quality time with friends and family, the DRIFT experience is one guests will never forget.
41 Fort Pickens Rd.
Pensacola Beach, FL 32561
Photography by Greg Riegler Photography