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NEW YORK — Knock, knock.

“Housekeeping!” fibs Vikram Chatwal as he pauses, key in hand, outside the Astaire Suite, just one of 235 rooms in The Majestic, his new hotel (located at 210 West 55th Street), which officially opens next Thursday. To mark the occasion, which also happens to be his 31st birthday, Chatwal will host a Halloween party in the penthouse lounge, Ava, an homage to Ava Gardner.

This story first appeared in the October 24, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

But for now, he’s intent on showing off one of the 15 suites named after Broadway legends like Balanchine, Barrymore, Sondheim and Gershwin. Although construction is ongoing, several select guests have checked in, and he doesn’t want to mistakenly barge in on one.

Knock, knock.

Without a response, Chatwal slips the key card into the door and swings it open to — sigh of relief — a lush, uninhabited room stocked with walnut furniture, gold-flecked bed linens and an oversized gilt mirror. Not a Philippe Starck item in sight.

“The tyranny of beige on beige is over,” explains Chatwal, who declares that the minimalist boutique hotel era has come and gone. “We wanted to give it a more traditional feel.”

Chatwal should know. The president of the new development and boutique division of Hampshire Hotel & Resorts, a family-owned company, he counts the contemporary and futuristic Time Hotel as one of his most successful projects. (After a stint at Morgan Stanley and then as a model, he joined the family business when his father, a traditional Muslim, threatened him with an arranged marriage.)

Unlike The Time, however, The Majestic is firmly rooted in the past. Formerly the Woodward, it was built in 1880 and had its glory days in the Fifties, when it crawled with beautiful people: glamorous Broadway and MGM screen stars from Frank Sinatra to Marilyn Monroe to Sophia Loren. After Best Western acquired it a decade ago, it lost its magic entirely, becoming just another hotel for Times Square tourists.

A $15 million renovation later, it’s set to become a chic stop for the fabulous set. Macy Gray threw a party at Ava last night, and MTV has already booked the lounge for a bash. With its Art Deco look — turquoise ceilings, striped banquettes and retro wall fixtures — Ava easily recalls Palm Springs in its heyday, but with rooftop access.

“People can enjoy the view of Times Square for the price of a cocktail, not a penthouse,” says Chatwal, motioning toward the Hudson River from his rooftop seat. Rooms begin at $225 a night and climb to $350 for suites.

By May, he says, the restaurant Serafina will be up and running — and providing room service — as will the Sundari Spa. And Chatwal’s also hard at work on another project, The Lamb’s Club, a 120-room high-end luxury hotel on 44th Street, slated to open next year, which will host a Deepak Chopra spa.

But his most pressing project is the one at hand: coming up with a Halloween costume for his birthday party.

“Elvis, maybe?” he says. “Oh, I’ll probably just be a Rastafarian — or a maharajah.”

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