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One for the books
... or not. The Peabody Book Shop was 'a place where respectable people could come for a sandwich and a glass of beer.'
By Mary K. Zajac

“Come in,” the sign above the basement door at 913 N. Charles St. invited. “Visit our Famous Beer Stube serving Cocktails Ð Beer Ð Food.”

There’s no counting how many Baltimoreans descended the dingy stairwell into the Peabody Book Shop and Beer Stube to share a beer at the communal wooden tables, hear poetry read aloud, participate in sing-alongs or watch as the Great Dantini performed his magic tricks. But everyone who passed through, it seems, has a story to tell, and one rarely about books.

My father still talks about one evening when he saw film star Veronica Lake and another when crooner Rudy Vallee walked in (he was in town performing at one of Baltimore’s theaters). Cockeysville resident Morry Wexler (father of Style senior editor Laura Wexler) recalls glimpsing his future wife, Trudy Ricker, there for the first time (though they didn’t actually meet until later). This was in the 1960s, when the Peabody was in the hands of the formidable Rose Boyajjian Smith Pettus Hayes (the lady loved— or perhaps didn’t love— her husbands), who owned and ran the two-story brick storefront at 913 N. Charles from 1957 until she died in 1986.

“Rose Smith [as she was once known] was a tough lady,” Wexler remembers. “She could deal with people. If she wanted to she could have picked them up by the seat of the pants and thrown them out.”

A 1968 Baltimore magazine article describes Rose as “an amiable but hard-headed woman with Streisand-like features” who tried hard to maintain the Peabody’s original aura of conviviality, if not the book inventory. Wexler remembers bachelor nights with friends at the Peabody when the proprietress would usher pretty female patrons to the long community tables where he and his friends were drinking. It was that kind of chummy place.

Founded by Austrian immigrant Siegfried Weisberger and his brother Hugo, the Peabody started life as a bookshop around 1927. When Hugo Weisberger died in 1931, Siegfried, who with his circular framed glasses, bow ties and inky mustache bore a slight resemblance to Groucho Marx, maintained the business, keeping the bookshop stocked with the kind of inventory he thought was important: an esoteric collection of art books, literature (in French, German and English), music and medical texts. In 1933, he transformed the building’s garage into a beer cellar as “a place where respectable people could come for a sandwich and a glass of beer,” he recalled in a 1974 article in The Alternative magazine. “Beer and books go together like balls and bats,” he opined in another publication.

Over the years, Weisberger’s “respectable” clientele included medical students, Peabody students, out of town visitors, and most famously, H.L. Mencken, with whom Weisberger was known to share conversations and glasses of beer (it was also rumored that F. Scott Fitzgerald drank there once— but then he drank at a lot of places). There was food, including sausages made by Weisberger himself, and there was nearly always music, especially singing, led from the upright piano that sat snug against one of the paneled walls.

The Peabody flourished under Weisberger until 1954 when he decided to sell, discouraged by a fine incurred by serving an underage drinker and certain that the country was embracing Mencken’s notion of “Age of the Boob,” rejecting art and culture in favor of commercialism and mass culture. When the business was bought and reopened by Rose Hayes in 1957, beer took precedence over books, which became more motif than merchandise, and the stube itself became a cluttered caricature of its humble origins with ballet slippers hanging from the wrought-iron chandelier, and the stag’s head above the brick fireplace competing for attention with mounted animal horns, ceramic busts, figurines and framed pictures of waterfowl.

Throughout the later life of the beer stube, there was always entertainment of some sort— a folk singer with a guitar, a piano player, someone plucking a zither. Sometimes, a bar patron would start a song, and before long the whole room had joined in. Then there was the Great Dantini (He Knew Houdini), with his enormous beard and minimal talent for magic, who performed tricks with rings and with cards, and was the subject of a 1976 documentary, “Dantini the Magnificent.” Legend has it he died in his chair after performing his act in March 1979.

“It was a hidden gem,” recalls Cindy Chance, proprietor of Carol’s Western Wear, who was first taken to the Peabody by her parents in the 1960s. In the 1970s, she says, “it wasn’t like going to a nightclub or any other bar. It was different edgy, alternative… counter culture. It wasn’t mainstream for a young person.”

Baltimorean John McDaniel remembers the Peabody of the 1980s, when Rose’s son John sat by the door and drew moody portraits of customers, and a pianist who went by “El Duko” played standards like “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”

The Peabody Book Shop and Beer Stube closed when Rose died in 1986. I recall looking through the dirty plate glass windows years later and seeing stacks of books and ephemera covering nearly every surface, like someone walked out one night and never returned— which is, in essence, what happened. And according to Tom Spies, an architect with Cochran, Stephenson and Donkervoet, the firm whose principals were part of the 913 North Charles Limited Partnership , which last owned the building, dirty dishes and remnants of half-filled glasses were discovered on the bar five years after the building had been shuttered.

The 913 group intended to create an office building on the site of 925 N. Charles, Spies says, using 913 as a protective flank for the building. But the deal fell through and the structurally unsound Peabody Book Shop was condemned and razed by the city. The property is now a parking lot for the Maryland Club.

But it’s the camaraderie and quirky joie de vivre of the Peabody Book Shop that’s missed more than the actual structure itself, and in the years since its closure, nowhere else in Baltimore has come close to replicating it. A friend told me she recalled sitting in the beer stube in the ‘70s, singing Mary Hopkin’s “Those Were the Days” along with the rest of the Peabody’s patrons. It was an apt choice. “Once upon a time there was a tavern…”

SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2009


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I took my wife to The Peabody Book Shop in 1977,where John painted a portrait of me in water color for my wife. It was beautiful,she still has the painting. I am also glad to own a book that was purchased at the Peabody,saved from doom and a fond memory of the place. The book is titled,“An American Annual of Christmas Literature and Art”. Copyright 1950. I am glad I had the pleasure of such a place in time,there will never be another.

Posted by Samuel Gibson on 08/21/14 at 02:03 AM


It was a magical place where you could be yourself before you even knew who you were !

Posted by Scarlett Rose on 06/01/14 at 03:27 PM


It was a magial place where you could be yourself before you even knew who you were !

Posted by Scarlett Rose on 06/01/14 at 03:23 PM


Hello, it’s me again. As I wrote before the Stube was my first gig. I posted a cover of “Those Were the Days” on Youtube as a tribute to this unique institution.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUTAmnN_fjU

Posted by Nicole Anderson on 04/27/14 at 12:13 AM


A group of students, from Towson State College, used to make Peabody our main haunt. Mostly, we were the geeks, who were SGA and junior political types. I loved it, mainly because of the atmosphere, which always led one to discover something new, no matter how many times the place was frequented. There was also a woman who played the piano. We would all sit around and sing oldies but goodies. Dantini would then appear. In many ways, he added the color to an already intricate piece of art. I’ll always remember Rose, so dear, but took no bs from anyone. Ah those days. I still miss the place to this day.

Posted by Mella on 03/11/14 at 10:49 AM


Some memories of the Stube:
- Dantini. He was so ancient that it wasn’t clear exactly what he was doing when performing magic with the rings. He would just periodically stop, so people would clap even if the rings still looked the same as they had a minute earlier. He would also do card tricks in the middle of the room - people behind him could see the cards going behind his hand. His final trick would be to “tie” a scarf around a woman’s neck and pull it as though it was going to choke her. Always kept us in suspense whether it would actually happen (it didn’t, to my knowledge).
- Max, the violinist. My friend, a jazz musician, asked Max whether he knew the Brubeck standard “Take Five”. Max replied, “Yes, I think I will take five” and went and sat down. Later we made the mistake of asking him whether he knew anything from Fiddler on the Roof. I think we heard the whole score.
- The ool table. There was a quarter table upstairs in the back. It didn’t work. My friend and I asked Rose if we could take a look at it. We were able to fix it, so she let us play for free whenever we were there. You had to “play the table” - especially the three foot long diagnoal crack in the center!

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Posted by Mara23Britt on 10/17/13 at 06:50 PM


Thank you for writing this, Mary.  My mother was friendly with Siegfried’s sister, Gisella.  It was Gisella who “manned” the place, so to speak, so that Siegfried could socialize with the customers in the stube.  I was only there in through my mother’s stories. I have a bit more history you.

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Posted by BlancaLynn20 on 09/12/13 at 06:40 AM


I used to frequent Peabodys in the early 1970s.  Met a sweet lady named Betty, who sang upstairs.  I remember those days with warmth and tears. I miss Baltimore to this day

Posted by Steve Romanoski on 04/25/13 at 08:05 PM


As a Ph.D. student at UM in the 80’s, I went a few times and experienced the pharmacology of beer drinking and the emotion of late night music. This place is deep in my memories.

Posted by Luis Aguayo on 03/24/13 at 05:20 PM


My late husband E.Christopher Brezon used to go to the Peabody Book Store. He took me there a couple times in the 80s.  I have photos of the magician D’Antini there doing tricks, photos by E.Christopher Brezon.

Posted by Sheryl C Southwick on 10/02/12 at 11:28 AM


Oh my - I realized that it sounded like we ate the mold. No! We cut the mold off and ate the cheese!

Posted by TLD on 07/29/12 at 04:41 PM


Every so often I would think of The Peabody and wonder if it was still there. Many years ago I was a young musician at The Peabody Conservatory and we often stopped by the Book Shop after classes and after our horrible cafeteria meals. I don’t remember the place all that well, except that we descended a set of rickety stairs and sat in a dimly lit room drinking beer and eating cheese that was put out on the table. Once there was some mold on the cheese, and we laughingly cut it off the rest of the block and ate it. Couldn’t be better for a young college student just starting out on her own!

Posted by TLD on 07/29/12 at 04:40 PM


As I previously wrote, I shared the Peabody “stage” with the late Michael Hedges. Sadly, he is gone, but I am still going strong. I wonder if any other Peabody Beer Stube alumni are as well?
Harper Nicole Anderson
Berkeley

http://youtu.be/1eZP52go-yM

Posted by Harper Nicole Anderson on 07/26/12 at 09:18 AM


I loved the Peabody! It was the kind of place you could go, know no one and wind up knowing everyone. my fiancee and I took my daughter there for her 18th birthday (when the drinking age was 18) and we had a great time. She still remembers it and talks about how at the end of the evening we took the guitar player home…to his house! We sang ourselves hoarse and laughed the night away. It is such a shame that it is gone..like so many other things.

Posted by Paula Schwartz on 08/23/11 at 11:20 PM


Tom,
If you have that picture in digital format, (if not you would need to scan it) you could upload it to photobucket.com and post a link.

I would love to see more photos of “the Stube.”

- h nicole anderson
San Lorenzo, California

Posted by h nicole anderson on 08/06/11 at 02:07 PM


In the mid ‘60s there was a young woman who played the piano with her cat perched above the keyboard, and led the singing. I have a picture of her on the job, but I don’t know how to post it. I remember Rose checking IDs on the way in, and Dantini’s magic tricks…

I loved that place!

Posted by Tom Naugler on 07/28/11 at 11:39 PM


The name of the guitar player came to me, Michael Hedges. At the time, he was a Peabody Conservatory student.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Hedges

He died in 1997 when his car failed to negotiate an S curve in Mendocino County and plunged down a cliff.

h nicole anderson
san lorenzo, california

Posted by h nicole anderson on 07/28/11 at 11:36 AM


I got my start there as a folksinger, I guess it was 1975. Rose started mt at $15 a night but I soon got a raise to $25. I went on to big and better things in Austin, Texas, then finally San Francisco. There was another guitar player who played there the same time I did who became quite famous, can’t remember his name at the moment, he also wound up in California but met his end some years ago when his BMW failed to negotiate a turn on the Pacific Coast Highway.

Posted by h nicole anderson on 07/27/11 at 01:31 AM


I lived on the 2nd floor, across the hall from composer John Williams. It was my first apartment when I started art school in 1966. I had met Rose about a year earlier when she agreed to sell my paintings in her shop. The money really helped me scrape through. The food was simple but fairly good, especially the Reuben, but the real attraction was the atmosphere… if not the air.

Posted by David Rood on 06/16/11 at 07:09 PM


I remember tending bar downstairs in early 1980 when I was 17. This place was one-of-a-kind. Sure was surprised to see it gone when attempting to visit, in 2006.

Posted by Mark Truett on 03/30/11 at 11:40 PM


I used to work at The Peabody Book Shop as a young man trying to get a job playing music. I remember Dantini along with Eddie Mitnick,the in-house piano player. I worked behind the bar until Rose finally gave me a chance to perform on a few occasions.
  “Those Were the Days” was definitely in my repertoire along with Bob Dylan & Cat Steven’s songs, so your friend may have heard me lead the crowd. A gentleman named Charlie, who smoked a pipe, ran the bookshop and Johnny (Rose’s son) was always good for some kind of curious comment. I loved the place, though it was a little like being in a dysfunctional family.
  Going down those front steps,(you had to duck your head)was like stepping out of time. You were entering a strange place where neither sight nor sound had any dimension…You were entering…
  The Peabody Book Shop & Beer Stube!

Posted by Jim Dorr on 10/21/10 at 05:11 PM


I visited the Peabody Book Shop and Beer Stube in 1968, while based at Ft. Holabird.  Went back in 1982, and found the same magazines in the same place I left them in 1968.  A great memory, and I’m sorry it is on hiatus…and hope it will return.

Posted by Tom Dulaney on 06/30/10 at 07:03 PM


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