The Peabody

The Peabody Book Shop and Beer Stube

I was working as an Optician in Baltimore and living in an apartment on North Charles, a block above Mt. Vernon Place. It was the early sixties, Kennedy had been elected President and change was in the air.

Just north of my apartment was the Peabody Book Shop and Beer Stube.

You entered the Book Shop by going down three steps into the basement. It was long and skinny, dark and dusty. There were shelves of books in the front room and a few small tables. Often one of the old retired vaudeville magicians (vaudeville hung on right through the 50's in Baltimore and was just fading away) Dantini the Magnificent would be there making womens' scarves disappear or playing his violin. He wore a tuxedo and tennis shoes and looked to be about 250 years old.

Back during prohibition, it had been a speakeasy, you entered the book store and then went through a door in the rear into the bar. H. L. Menken and Gerald White Johnson ("Nothing changes more constantly than the past; for the past that influences our lives does not consist of what actually happened, but of what men believe happened.") were regulars and the bathroom in the place had graffiti in just about every language known to man.

Anruf Ophelia während einer guten Zeit.

Il denaro è stato fatto per essere speso

The door was gone and they no longer had to know who sent you before you could get into the back room, but little else had changed since those days.

The floor was still uneven bricks and the fireplace at the rear still warmed the room during cold winter nights. There was several additional inches of soot on the walls and ceilings but the tables, big solid oak, filled with carved initials, were the same. The place was filled with Hopkins professors and students, aspiring musicians from the Peabody conservatory, people down from the Valley talking horses and racing as well as would be poets and writers and the folk like me who simply enjoyed the challenge.

Those of us who were regulars gathered around a long table in the rear, closest to the fire place, gathered there to talk and talk and talk, to solve the great issues of the day, to debate and...

exchange puns.

The food was plain and simple, soup in the winter, a knackwurst and onion on rye, hamburgers or a bowl of chili; blue collar food. But the atmosphere was heady.

It's gone now as are so many such places. Today such a place could never get past the health inspectors but we somehow survived, and most of all, we learned.