Sunday, December 4, 2016
Vikram Chatwal has been known as many things: hotelier and public face of the trendy Dream and Time hotels, scion, playboy, actor — and, most recently, hot mess.
This Thursday, the millionaire is due in court to face a felony charge of criminal mischief, as well as misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty, reckless endangerment and arson. On Oct. 18, Vikram, 45, was arrested for allegedly attempting to light gallerist Sean Kelly’s two Jack Russell terriers on fire. He is now out on $50,000 bond and dog walker Isabell Suquilanda is suing him, saying she was traumatized by the attack.
“He cornered my dog walker and he repeatedly tried to attack her and set the dogs on fire using this improvised flamethrower,” said Kelly, who lives across the street from Vikram in Soho, where the attack took place. (The dogs received minor injuries.)
“He was shouting that his home was full of fleas crawling up the walls and he had to kill all animals to stop the fleas,” Kelly told The Post. “He is completely unstable.”
It’s just the latest in a string of unsavory incidents for Vikram that, sources say, involve substance abuse.
The eldest son of Sant Singh Chatwal — the multimillionaire Indian-American founder of Hampshire Hotels & Resorts — Vikram was once lauded for sexing up the family company’s image with the slick Dream and Time hotels in Manhattan. The Chatwals have tried to keep his problems under wraps. But according to colleagues and friends interviewed by The Post, in recent years, Vikram’s hard-partying ways have wreaked havoc on his career and personal life — so much so that he was banned from his own Electric Room nightclub, according to a former club doorkeeper. (The hotel’s publicist did not return calls for comment.)
With a 2013 arrest for attempting to smuggle drugs onto an airplane in Florida and October’s dog incident, those close to Vikram are worried that his addictions may spell the end of an otherwise charmed existence.
“Prescription drugs, or any kind of drugs, it can take over your life,” said Teresa Lourenco, a former Victoria’s Secret model who’s known the scion for nearly 20 years and dated him in 2002. “When you look at the root of his soul, it was a beautiful soul. But it was corrupted by things at times.”
Drugs and arrests weren’t part of the plan for Vikram. Born in Ethiopia, he moved to Manhattan in the 1980s with his parents and younger brother, Vivek. Sant made a fortune with the Bombay Palace restaurant chain and hobnobbed with steel barons and powerful politicians.
“[Sant is] the Indian Bill Clinton,” said a Chatwal family business colleague of his charming ways. “He knows who everyone is, says hello to everybody, says hello to the help.”
Vikram graduated from the Wharton School of business in 1994 and dabbled in modeling, and acting in “Zoolander.”
When he opened his first hotel, the Time on 49th Street (initially under his own company, Vikram Chatwal Hotels), the Sikh gadabout was the embodiment of the good life. He zoomed around in his Aston Martin, partied with Sean “Diddy” Combs on his yacht, and dated supermodels Kate Moss and Gisele Bündchen, whose first initial Vikram has tattooed on his arm.
Sant tried to temper his party-boy son by arranging a fix-up with Priya Sachdev, a New Delhi actress and former investment banker. In 2006, the two married in a lavish three-city, 10-day wedding where guests such as Deepak Chopra and Naomi Campbell were shuttled around in chartered 737s.
The couple had a baby girl, Safira, that same year. Within five years of getting married, Vikram entered rehab twice for alcohol addiction. His business still managed to flourish, though.
In the summer of 2011, he opened his eighth hotel, the Dream Downtown, under his father’s umbrella. His personal troubles largely concealed, Vikram’s reputation as a jet-setter and gossip-column fixture gave the brand a certain cache.
Despite still being married, Vikram began flagrantly flaunting his new alleged lover, troubled actress Lindsay Lohan.
“One time, Lindsay came outside the Electric Room and was screaming: ‘I can’t believe he brought Russian whores here tonight! What a f - - king asshole,’ ” said a former doorkeeper for Dream Downtown’s celeb hangout.
Within the first eight months of opening the hotel, Vikram was exiled from the Electric Room.
“Once, somebody didn’t know who he was and left a bill on his table, and he . . . threw a drink into a cocktail waitress’s face,’ ” recalled the former Electric Room doorkeeper.
“We [were told] . . . that he was banned,” she said. “There were photos passed around so we could watch for him.”
One night, the doorkeeper said, Vikram overdosed in a suite at the Dream Downtown. “He had a doctor who was on call who showed up in basically a mobile medical unit.”
With Vikram running wild, his father tried to exert control.
The Dream Downtown staff was instructed to report back to Sant about any crazy antics, according to the doorkeeper. And a family friend said Sant has employed an assistant, David Harold, for years to watch after his son.
But Vikram’s handlers can’t always reel him in.
“In 2011, he was having an interview with a Travel and Leisure writer and fell asleep in the middle of [it] at 3 in the afternoon,” said a source who was present. “His butler took a teacup and put some sort of powder in it and gave it to Vikram, and he perked up after that.” (Travel and Leisure had no comment on the matter. Vikram’s lawyer declined to comment on The Post’s story, and his publicist called allegations in the article “not statements of fact.”)
In April 2013, Vikram was arrested at Florida’s Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport for attempting to smuggle cocaine, heroin, marijuana and prescription pills — including muscle relaxants, horse tranquilizers, sedatives and opioids — aboard a plane. He managed to skirt jail time and became engaged to Spanish model Esther Cañadas that year after separating from his wife. The two quickly made Page Six headlines when they broke up weeks later, and Vikram sued Cañadas for the $300,000 engagement ring.
While sources say Sant will never give up on his son, amid the public humiliations, he has stripped Vikram of any real responsibilities related to the family business.
Shortly after the dog attack, the CEO of Sant’s hotel group, Jay Stein, sent a letter to clients distancing the company from Vikram: “Although Vikram was part of the founding team at Dream, he has no active involvement in the Dream Hotel Group [formerly known as Hampshire Hotels & Resorts] operations or management, nor is he an owner of any of our properties. The action of which he is accused [in] no way reflects or represents the values of our brands and organization,” said the letter obtained by The Post.
Those close to Vikram are holding out hope he can shape up. “Everyone I know feels bad,” said the source who has worked with the Chatwals. “I’ve never heard anyone say, ‘What a rich brat.’ He’s a nice guy who can’t get out of a rabbit hole.”