Painting the town

Artist Domingo Zapata enjoys a night out amid dispute with his former landlord

Artist Domingo Zapata hosted an art show at the Gansevoort Hotel in the Meatpacking District.
Artist Domingo Zapata hosted an art show at the Gansevoort Hotel in the Meatpacking District.

Playboy artist and former LLNYC cover star Domingo Zapata was in high spirits when I met him recently at the lobby bar of the Gansevoort Hotel in the Meatpacking District. He was hosting “Amigos Intervention,” an art show celebrating his work along with fellow Latin artists Jordi Molla, Anirays Camino and Adi Oren. That night in the bar, famed flamenco musician Antonio Barullo played guitar while models right off Fashion Week’s runways tiptoed around precariously placed paintings.

You wouldn’t have guessed that Zapata was entangled in a legal battle over the Gramercy Park mansion he had called home since May 2013.

Zapata — who is known for high-profile patrons like Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio — is being accused by his former landlord of taking his artistic license a little too far in his rented townhouse on Gramercy Park South. His home was wildly slathered in paint on my visit in 2014 for a party that attracted an eclectic crowd, including stars of “The Real Housewives of New York,” real estate brokers, Fox News correspondents and Bill Clinton’s self-proclaimed hair-transplant surgeon.

“I like this area. It makes me feel sometimes that I’m not in New York City.”

Landlord Carolyn Benitez — who is married to music producer Jellybean Benitez and owns Union Square Coffee Shop — alleges that Zapata inflicted $199,317 worth of damage on the property, according to the lawsuit she filed. She noted damage to the ceilings and floors (both covered in paint), plumbing and antique art (Medieval suits of armor and a Louis XIV wall paneling). And she also accuses Zapata of allowing the home to become infested with bugs.

She wants an additional $15,000 in attorney fees, according to the suit, filed in New York State Supreme Court.

Zapata called the lawsuit “unfair” when contacted by The Real Deal. “That’s an outrageous amount of money,” he said of the claim. “I’ve tried to offer a reasonable amount—$50,000 or $60,000—but she doesn’t want that. If the damage was really so bad, would she have been able to lease it to a friend just a few weeks after I left?”

Zapata famously hosted other star-studded soirées at the property, with guests including Sofia Vergara, Salman Rushdie and Lindsay Lohan. He used the ballroom of the 8,600-square-foot home, which comprises the first three floors of a 19th-century townhouse at 11 Gramercy Park South, as a studio because its windows look out over Gramercy Park.

“I like this area,” Zapata said of Gramercy Park in a 2014 LLNYC cover profile. “It makes me feel sometimes that I’m not in New York City.”

Last we heard, Zapata hadn’t found a new pad. But that hasn’t slowed the mile-a-minute paint slinger down. “Shut the fuck up!” he screamed at the Gansevoort apropos of seemingly nothing, and then smiled. “I have something to say!” Everyone cheered.