205 E. Grand Ave. (500N, 200E)
Chicago, IL 60611
"Don't be a stranger"
They just don't make places like CND Gyros Lounge anymore, and if they did you could be sure they'd have a catchier slogan. Dating back to 1974, CND is a true throwback: part fast-food joint, part beer joint and 100% Chicago.
John's CND Gyros Lounge, as it's formally known, is located in an exhaust-streaked two-story building on Grand next door to the popular Italian Restaurant Volaré and not far from its kindred spirit and possible inspiration, the original Billy Goat Tavern. From the outside, CND is not quite foreboding, but not totally welcoming either, with sandwich boards and beer signs strategically placed to block your view inside. A faded sign that's seen one too many Chicago winters hangs from the second floor—the words "Gyros" and "Lounge" offset with images of a spit of meat and a martini glass to entice the hungry, thirsty and semi-literate to step inside.
Step through the glass door and into the fast food portion of CND, which occupies about a quarter of the premises. The simple set up has an over-sized menu board offering a vast assortment of sinful delights with their specialty being Italian beef and, of course, gyros.
Behind the counter, where you can place your take-out order, the open kitchen gives out free smells, which will linger on your clothes long after you've left. More on the food later, but overall it's an excellent value for the Streeterville area.
"You know you can order at the bar," were the matronly bartender's first stern words to us as Chicago Bar Project founder Sean Parnell and I took our seats. A simple "hi" would have been nice, but it serves as a valuable lesson to others contemplating their first visit to CND: ignore the prominent "Order Here" sign out front. Settling in as we waited for our food, I took in the room. A backlit faux-stained glass drop ceiling hangs above the service bar, which dominates the left side of the rectangular, windowless room. Communal tables occupy most of the rest of the space, with a maximum seating capacity of a few dozen. The space is rounded out with an odd array of decorations that include a series of oil paintings depicting "sad tramp" clown characters (mildly creepy and reminiscent of the hobos at Miller's Pub), a collection of construction hard hats (a loyal customer segment), and ten foot long banner of the Cub's 2008 schedule (I'm writing this in November 2009). For additional distraction, a couple of TVs pump in CNBC & MSNBC when the game's not on.
CND has four beers on tap, including 312, and another 15 or so by the bottle, but your best bet is to stick with the $3 Old Style drafts, served in chilled mugs. CND offers a full bar, and I did witness a couple drinking glasses of wine with lunch, but you quickly get the impression that this place is more about the high life than high society. As for the food, the gyro I had was top-notch, probably in the top five in the city. Sure, there was too much meat to support the tender pita, but that's what I call a happy problem. The fries weren't bad either. CND opens at 11am from Monday through Saturday, and stays open until business dies down, usually by 8-9pm, though is now open late on Saturdays and for karaoke the last Friday of each month. As such, CND is geared around lunch and happy hour. Expect a mix of regulars along with construction workers and white collar types from the area in an atmosphere that's just short of subdued.
So, what's with the name? As the bartender told us, "A guy named Chris owned the whole block when we opened. The owners couldn't think of a name, so they decided on CND, for 'Chris next door'." To which she helpfully added, "Chris is dead now," yet the name endures...
If you're interested in a Chicago original with good food, cold brews and a one-of-a-kind setting, definitely put CND Gyros Lounge on your list. If you like CND, you should definitely visit the aforementioned Billy Goat Tavern or any of the amazing local bars chronicled in Sean Parnell's forthcoming book, Historic Bars of Chicago. If you want more information, check out the CND Facebook page. Cheers.