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The Peabody Book Shop and Beer Stube ends a long and colorful era in Baltimore's social and literary history.

CLOSING THE BOOK

October 06, 1997|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,SUN STAFF

"These young fellows come in here wanting a Greek pony or a Latin pony so they can translate their lessons with no work," he said. "Never will I sell them a pony. The original Greek or Latin, yes. Ponies never!"

Weisberger abandoned the Peabody in 1954, convinced that the "Age of the Boob" predicted by his friend Mencken had triumphed in America. The demolition of his shop may indicate that his conviction was not wrong, merely premature.

The frequently married Rose Boyajian Smith Pettus Hayes, the Stube's second most important proprietor, took over the place in 1957, when she was married to the fellow named Smith. The Peabody, which by then had a reputation for sedate Bohemianism, would segue into a moderate Beat Generation mode, and then mild hippie-ism. It was a stop on the "hip" circuit of the time, along with Morris Martick's Lower Tyson Street Saloon and Leon's incipient gay bar on upper Tyson.

"Everybody went to the Peabody. A lot of college kids, that's for sure," says Martick. Perhaps the doyen of Baltimore hipdom at 75, he still runs Martick's Restaurant Francais at the old stand on Mulberry and Tyson streets.

Decline

Rose Hayes would open a second bar upstairs, but she had the good sense not to mess with Siegfried's Stube. The old bar just became more sooty and cluttered with art and artifacts, mostly middle to high kitsch. Books became more and more incidental. Hayes still sold them, but she didn't pay much attention to their literary value. She guaranteed only that they'd have all their pages.

The Peabody had always had piano players and the occasional fiddler, but she widened the entertainment to include folk singers and guitarists, pop singers, movies, even plays like the corn classic melodrama, "The Drunkard."

She also installed Dantini the Magnificent, a Fells Point musician and Baltimore cultural treasure in his own right, who became identified with the Stube. Dantini was an ancient vaudevillian who spent 50 years polishing his act, never getting it quite right.

Dantini cultivated a striking demeanor, with a flowing silver beard people said made him look like Moses, Noah or Walt Whitman. He modeled for years at the Maryland Institute -- never naked, of course; he was a good Polish Catholic whose offstage name was Vincent Cierkes. But hundreds of portraits were made of him by artists as diverse as Joe Sheppard, Charlie Newton, Abbie Sangiamo and Paul Moscat.

Somebody once timed his act at 11 minutes, a length that pleased Rose Hayes. "I told him not to make it too long, because it took up drinking time," she said. She had a reputation for keeping a sharp eye on the cash register. "We clocked 7,000 who came in here to drink in one month," she rejoiced during her heyday.

One night in March 1979, Dantini, then 74, finished his act, sat down in a chair at the entrance to the Stube and collapsed into unconsciousness. He never woke up.

Rose Hayes died in 1986, and the Peabody Beer Stube pretty much died with her. Some desultory attempts were made to keep it going. The building ended up owned by a group known as the 913 North Charles Limited Partnership, which included "the principals of Cochran, Stephenson and Donkervoet," a leading local architectural firm.

A couple of development ideas collapsed, and the Peabody eventually started collapsing, too. A big hole opened in the north wall of the old four-story townhouse. The city condemned the building and ordered it torn down, and the 913 partnership was fined $4,000 for "demolition by neglect."

The building will soon be gone. The parking lot next door will no doubt be extended. And another piece of Baltimore's past paved over.

Pub Date: 10/06/97

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