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Downtown Chicago grabs attention with its myriad of new discoveries, installations

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Chicago’s 77 neighbourhoods — including Lincoln Park, home to the new Wrightwood 659 gallery — offer myriad reasons to stray from the beaten path. But lately the Loop, as the downtown district is called for the elevated train tracks that encircle it, is fighting for your attention with a new architecture centre, writers’ museum, river walk, design-centric hotels, destination restaurants and Art on the Mart, a digital art installation broadcast across a 2.5-acre building façade on the river. All of the city’s train lines fan out from downtown, making it a great base from which to explore beyond, particularly for those in search of vibrant storefront theatres, design shops and breweries. Late fall and winter are bargain times to appreciate them, when rates for everything from airfare to hotel rooms drop. But the best reasons to visit Chicago now largely defy climate.

Friday2:30 p.m. First Drafts

Art on the Mart, a digital art installation, projects across a 2.5-acre building facade facing the Chicago River.
Art on the Mart, a digital art installation, projects across a 2.5-acre building facade facing the Chicago River.  (Michelle Litvin / The New York Times)

Two new cultural stars have concentrated the appeal of the Loop district. The former Chicago Architecture Foundation moved to a prominent riverfront location in August and, having added an intriguing museum with models of famous buildings worldwide, renamed itself the Chicago Architecture Center. It is the start of the centre’s famous riverboat architectural tours ($47 (U.S.) fares), now launching from across the street (through Nov. 19). Out of river season, join one of the downtown walking tours ($26) that tell the story of Chicago’s design evolution. Nearby, the interactive exhibits of the American Writers Museum, including manual typewriters where patrons are encouraged to add to crowdsourced stories, bring the art of storytelling to life (admission $12).

7 p.m. Fine and Friendly Food

At the new Bellemore, diners in the West Loop are treated not just to refined food and glamorous design, but the kind of pretension-free dining that characterizes Chicago’s vibrant restaurant scene. Chef Jimmy Papadopoulos uses global ingredients and cooking techniques to create richly flavoured, multi-textured seasonal dishes including, recently, a salad with port-marinated pears ($14) and grilled lamb belly with eggplant, pickled grapes and chickpea crackers ($36). Menu splurges include the Instagram-famed oyster pie ($68), but guests need not succumb to enjoy what is simultaneously a down-home and dressed-up dinner while listening to David Bowie and ogling the taxidermy birds above the bar.

10:30 p.m. Late Night Laughs

Visitors take in a performance of “Made in America” at Second City's Up Comedy Club.
Visitors take in a performance of “Made in America” at Second City’s Up Comedy Club.  (Michelle Litvin/The New York Times)

Chicagoans may be divided on the merits of deep-dish pizza, but when it comes to homegrown invention, no one disputes the reign of improv comedy. Members of the seminal Compass Players went on, in 1959, to form Second City, whose alumni range from Bill Murray to Tina Fey. Catch a late-night improv show at Second City’s slick Up Comedy Club in the Old Town district (tickets from $18). Or Uber about a mile west to iO Theater, where the Improvised Shakespeare Company specializes in long-form improv using the playwright’s language to craft two-act comedies based on a single audience title suggestion (tickets $20).

Saturday10 a.m. Art History at Home and Abroad

The Art Institute of Chicago features several Chicago-centric exhibitions, including dollhouse-scale architectural vignettes.
The Art Institute of Chicago features several Chicago-centric exhibitions, including dollhouse-scale architectural vignettes.  (Michelle Litvin/The New York Times)

You do not need us to tell you to go to the Art Institute of Chicago (admission $20 to $25). But while you are there, here are a few specifically Chicago-centric exhibitions you might otherwise overlook. Through Jan. 6, “Hairy Who? 1966-1969,” features the boldly graphic work of six countercultural South Side-based artists. Then make your way to the quirky Thorne Miniature Rooms, a subterranean collection of 68 dollhouse-scale architectural vignettes from a Gothic church and Tudor great room to a New Mexican dining room in the 1940s. All were designed by Narcissa Niblack Thorne, a Chicago artist and the wife of James Ward Thorne, heir to the Montgomery Ward retail fortune. From Nov. 17 to Jan. 8, several of the rooms are decorated in denominationally appropriate holiday style.

Noon. View Points

The BP Pedestrian Bridge, designed by Frank Gehry, connects Maggie Daley Park to Millennium Park.
The BP Pedestrian Bridge, designed by Frank Gehry, connects Maggie Daley Park to Millennium Park.  (Michelle Litvin)

For a panoramic lunch, dine at Cindy’s, the conservatory-like rooftop restaurant at the Chicago Athletic Association hotel overlooking Millennium Park and Lake Michigan. Share the generous seafood cocktail ($22) and cast-iron chilaquiles ($27) while taking in the views. Then continue north to the Chicago River to stroll on the 2-year-old Chicago Riverwalk, a 1.25-mile-long, water-level promenade. In fair weather, the kayak launches, picnic lawns and cafes bustle, but even in the off-season the walkway offers good perspectives on the surrounding landmark highrises.

2 p.m. Style Sales

After appreciating design in the city, take a souvenir home from a clutch of North Side shops that specialize in architectural salvage, modern design and antiques. Begin trolling at the vast warehouse where Architectural Artifacts trades in decorative building castoffs from wrought iron railings and wooden mantelpieces to terra cotta gargoyles as well as more portable art tiles and juggling pins. In the nearby Andersonville neighbourhood, visit Brimfield for vintage plaid blankets and college pennants. Next door, Scout deals midcentury furnishings and funky finds as well as Impressionist Chicago cityscapes by local artist Chuck Meyers.

4 p.m. Brew Break

The explosive Chicago microbrew scene is largely neighbourhood-based, from Argus Brewery in the South Side Pullman district and Moody Tongue Brewery in Pilsen to Temperance Beer Co. in north suburban Evanston. Among the most popular, Half Acre Beer Co. recently opened a tap room, restaurant and beer garden just west of Andersonville. Claim a rustic wood table and a pint of its signature Daisy Cutter pale ale, Pony Pilsner (each $6) or wet-hopped black ale Sticky Fat ($8) to relax in the family-friendly locale. Alcohol-free options include local Dark Matter Coffee ($2) and 164 Soda ($3). When hunger strikes, do not miss the housemade bread ($6) and roast chicken ($18).

7:30 p.m. Tiny Houses

Five major theatres in Chicago, including Steppenwolf and Goodman theatres, claim Tony Awards. But it is the city’s small, often storefront-based theatres — more than 200 of them exist — that form the backbone of the rich theatre community. Go intimate at A Red Orchid Theater in Old Town where actor Michael Shannon is a founder. The ensemble-focused Strawdog Theater in the North Center neighbourhood is known for immersive staging of new works and rewritten classics such as “Great Expectations.” Steep Theater in the Edgewater area has strong ties to contemporary playwrights such as Simon Stephens, and often stages searing shows before audiences of 60 or fewer, who toast performances post-curtain at the theatre’s new adjacent bar.

10:30 p.m. Toddlin’ Town

In a town where nightclubs and bars stay open an extra hour on Saturday nights, there is a nightcap for every mood. The polished new Z Bar at the Peninsula Chicago hotel offers bird’s-eye views over Michigan Avenue’s Magnificent Mile downtown. In bohemian Wicker Park, the intimate Up Room atop the Robey hotel channels a midcentury lounge with Chicago accents, including drinks inspired by the Great Fire of 1871, such as Holy Cow milk punch ($15). In the Loop, enter through a neighbouring diner to reach the neo-dive-bar Moneygun and huddle in a circular booth with a classic cocktail like a Pink Squirrel ($11.75). Nearby, play a game of foosball or bocce ball at the retro Game Room in the Chicago Athletic Association.

Sunday10 a.m. Lakefront Tour

Eighteen miles of paved pathway edges Lake Michigan, the Great Lake that moderates much of Chicago’s weather. Biking is the best way to appreciate the city’s sparkling outdoor asset. Rent a hybrid, town cruiser or road bike from Bike and Roll Chicago at Millennium Park or Navy Pier (from $12.50 an hour) and head southbound for a traffic-free cruise and stellar skyline views on your return back north (the heavier Divvy shared bikes are another option at $3 per 30 minutes). Winter occasionally disrupts this plan, in which case head to Maggie Daley Park next to Millennium Park to skate on the meandering ice ribbon that simulates a frozen prairie path amid surrounding highrises (free; skate rentals $14).

Noon. Cultural Consumption

The Commons is a public space at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
The Commons is a public space at the Museum of Contemporary Art.  (Michelle Litvin/The New York Times)

In recent years, the Museum of Contemporary Art (admission $15) has used innovative exhibitions such as the recently closed group show “I Was Raised on the internet” and the current “Picture Fiction” on Kenneth Josephson’s conceptual photography (through Dec. 30) to attract younger patrons, rejuvenating the gallery experience. Stop in to see how, then head to the museum’s new ground-floor restaurant Marisol for brunch. Its chef, Jason Hammel, a farm-to-table pioneer with Lula Cafe in Logan Square, brings his savory skills downtown to the fittingly modern space. Indulge in a housemade doughnut ($4) frittata ($14) and crispy pork succotash ($16), then walk it off on the nearby Magnificent Mile stretch of Michigan Avenue.

Lodging

The 1929-vintage Carbide and Carbon Building newly houses the 364-room St. Jane hotel in the Loop. Named for pioneering social worker Jane Addams, the hotel plans to donate 1.1 per cent of hotel revenue to a local charity. Guests will find local brands in the mini-bar and a destination all-day American brasserie, Free Rein, on the ground floor. Rooms from $269; stjanehotel.com.

Though occasional downtown apartments come up on Airbnb, most rentals tend to cluster in more residential neighbourhoods. Those in the Old Town district tend to run from $64 to $130 and offer easy mass-transit access north or south via the Red or Brown Line trains. In the opposite direction and conveniently on the Red Line, look for good deals in Chinatown, where apartments start around $65. Airbnb.com.

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Travel & Escape

Why your hotel mattress feels like heaven (and how to bring that feeling home)

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(NC) Choosing the right mattress is a long-term investment in your health and well-being. To make a good choice for your home, take a cue from luxury hotel-room beds, which are designed to support the sound sleep of tens of thousands of guests, 365 nights a year.

“When we’re shopping for a mattress, we do lab testing, identify the best materials, bring in multiple mattress samples and have our associates test them,” explains David Rizzo, who works for Marriott International. “We ask for ratings on comfort level, firmness, body support and movement disruption. It takes 12 to 18 months just to research and select materials.”

Here, he shares his tips to pick the perfect mattress for your best sleep:

Understand your needs. People have different food and exercise preferences, as well as different sleep cycles. So, it’s no surprise that everyone has unique mattress preferences. Not sure whether a firm or a soft mattress is better? Rizzo says the best gauge is to ask yourself, “Do I wake up with aches and pains?” If the answer is no, you’re golden.

Foam versus spring. All mattresses have a core that is made up foam or innersprings or a combination of the two. Today’s foam-core mattresses contain memory foam — a material engineered by NASA to keep astronauts comfortable in their seats. It’s special because it retains or “remembers” its shape, yielding to pressure from the sleeper’s body, then bouncing back once the pressure is removed.

An innerspring mattress has an encased array of springs with individual coils that are connected by a single helical wire. This wire creates continuous movement across the coil that minimizes disruption if the mattress is disturbed, such as by a restless sleeper. According to Rizzo, the innerspring is “bouncier.”

Temperature preference. Consider how warm or cool you like to sleep, and factor in the construction of the mattress to find one with a temperature that suits you. The air space engineered into an innerspring mattress promotes ventilation, which some people find keeps them pleasantly cool. To accomplish the same purpose with a foam mattress (or the foam layer of an innerspring) it may be infused with metal, usually silver or copper, to help dissipate heat and humidity.

Need to test out the right mattress for your needs? Find the right fit during your next trip by booking your stay at marriott.com.

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Travel & Escape

How to make the most of summer travel

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(NC) One of the best parts of our short Canadian summers is the opportunity to enjoy them a little bit extra on long weekends. If you need ideas, check out these creative things to do whether you decide to stay in town or go away.

Do a dinner crawl. Pub crawls are fun for couples, friends and also families with older kids. For an exciting twist that stretches your dollars and lets you taste food from several spots before you get too full, try a dinner crawl. Eat apps at one restaurant, mains at another and dessert at another.

Go on a mini getaway. You don’t need to go very far to enjoy a vacation – exploring a Canadian city over a summer weekend is great way to treat yourself to a holiday. Whether it’s checking out the museums in Toronto or the parks in Vancouver, there’s something for everyone. For upgraded benefits, special experiences and the best rates guaranteed, join Marriott Bonvoy and book direct on Marriott.com.

Host a potluck. Perfect whether you’re staying at home or going to your cottage, gather friends and family together for some food and fun. A potluck is an easy and affordable way to host a big get-together and lets everyone try something new and swap recipes. Make the festivities extra special with a fireworks potluck, too – ask everyone to bring some fireworks or sparklers and put on a light show. Just be sure to follow local regulations for consumer fireworks.

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Travel & Escape

Lottoland: Here’s why Canadians love it!

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Lotteries have been in existence for many centuries now and it’s an open secret that most people enjoy playing a good lottery.

Asides from gauging your own luck, the thrill of playing, the anticipation of the results and the big wins every now and then is something most people look forward to. Since 1982, the lottery has been in Canada, but now there is a way to play both the Lotto and other international lotteries from Canada, all from the comfort of your home.

With Lottoland, all you need to do is register and get access to numerous international lotteries right from their website. The easy-to-use interface has all the information you need, and great amount of care has been taken to ensure that the online experience is similar—and even better—than if players were to visit each location personally.

The Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries are hitting record highs with their prize money, in what the organizers claim to be the largest jackpot in the history of the world. However, the U.S. has gambling laws that are state controlled and buying your ticket through an online broker can be considered gambling.

“No one except the lottery or their licensed retailers can sell a lottery ticket. No one. Not even us. No one. No, not even that website. Or that one,” Powerball’s website says.

Therefore, to stand a chance to win the $1.5 billion-dollar lottery jackpot it means you have to purchase your lottery tickets directly from a licensed retailer such as Lottoland.

Since 2013, Lottoland has been operating in Canada, rapidly growing in popularity amongst Canadians. Due to its easy of use and instant access to lotteries that were previously considered inaccessible—as Canadians had to travel all the way to the U.S. to purchase tickets in the past—Lottoland has attracted lots of visitors.

Currently, there about 8-million players on Lottoland, a figure that points to the reliability of the website.

One of the core values of Lottoland is transparency and that’s why a quick search on the website would show you a list of all of their winners. Recently, a Lottoland customer was awarded a world-record fee of $137 million CND.

Also, due to the incredibly slim chances of winning the grand prize not everyone would take home mega-dollar winnings, but there are substantial winnings every day.

Securing your information online is usually one important factor when registering on any platform and as the site explains, “Lottoland works very hard to verify your information.”

The site has a multi-verification process that will ensure that you confirm your identity and age before giving you a pay-out. However, in the rare case that a player has immediate luck and wins a lottery before completing the verification process, Lottoland will hold on to the winnings until they complete your verification.

While this might seem like a tedious process, it is very important as these safety features would ensure that your information wasn’t stolen and ultimately your winning routed to another account.

Lottoland is licensed with the National Supervisory Bodies For Lotteries in several countries such as the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden, Ireland and Australia—where it is called a wagering license. Typically, most gaming companies don’t establish insurance companies as it entails that their activities have to be transparent and the must be highly reputable in the industry.

Nonetheless, Lottoland has no issues meeting up to these standards as they have established themselves as the only gaming sector company who has its own insurance company—an added advantage for new and existing users.

Lotteries aren’t the only games Canadians enjoy playing and Lottoland recognizes this by providing players with other types of gaming. As an industry leader, video designers of online games often make them their first choice when it comes to publishing their works.

Online games such as slots, blackjack, video poker, baccarat, keno, scratchoffs, roulette and many others are always on offer at the Lottoland Casino. There’s also the option of playing with a live dealer and a total of over 100 games.

Lottoland has received numerous rave reviews from its growing list of satisfied customer and their responsive customer service agents are always available to answer any questions users may have, along with solving challenges they may have encountered.

More and more Canadians are trooping to Lottoland in droves due to the unique experience of going to a casino without having to leave the comfort of their homes.

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