Peabody Book Shop and Beer Stube, 913 N. Charles St.
Siegfried Weisberger emigrated from Austria in 1912 and opened the Peabody Book Shop and Beer Stube at 913 N. Charles Street in 1922. A bookstore in front serving beer in the back, the Peabody was a haunt of Baltimore writer H. L. Mencken and became a Mount Vernon institution.
A 1954 New York Times article described the Peabody as a “musty shop ... a scene of scholarly chaos. If there are counters, they are invisible beneath an avalanche of volumes ranging from collections of Bach madrigals to cook books.” According to the article, Weisberger was throwing in the towel. “The age of the boob is upon us,” he said, alluding to one of Mencken’s best-known idioms. Weisberger continued, “The people don’t want books and ideals and culture. They only want dollars.”
The Peabody did not close in 1954-- or if it did, it didn’t remain closed for long. But perhaps Weisberger or the Peabody’s subsequent owner, Rose Hayes, made changes to attract a less “booby” clientele. D. Borsella of the Baltimore Timeline website recalled that in the early 1960s, to gain admittance “you had to show two picture IDs proving your age to be twenty-three,” he wrote. “Since a driver’s license was the only picture ID most of us had circa 1960, one could only infer that the Peabody courted international travelers who could flash a passport.”
By the 1960s, the Peabody attracted “the really artsy crowd.” Jacki Amrhein-Phillips remembered a large orange cat that roamed the tables and stacks, and Linda Shopes recalled it being “a wonderful example of what life in the big city was at the time.” The magician Dantini the Magnificent--supposedly an acquaintance of Harry Houdini— would perform tricks in the back, which Borsella said drove some of the Peabody’s patrons “to retreat temporarily to the long, narrow bookstore in the front.” He continued, “The books must have originally belonged to Siegfried's grandfather, so ancient did they seem. One suspects that there were few book sales and even fewer thefts.”
The Peabody closed in 1986, a shadow of its former self. The run-down building that had housed it for over fifty years was torn down in 1997. At the time, Carl Schoettler wrote in the Baltimore Sun, “When he built the Stube, Siegfried Weisberger wanted to re-create a European cafe where people could drink a beer after browsing among his books. He pretty much succeeded.” The building that now houses the Kumari restaurant stands in its place.
“Mencken’s Friend, Closing Shop, Fears the ‘Age of the Boob,’” New York Times, March 5, 1954, p. 22.
D. Borsella, Baltimore Timeline website.
Carl Schoettler, “The Peabody Book Shop and Beer Stube ends a long and colorful era in Baltimore's social and literary history,” Baltimore Sun, Oct. 6, 1997.