Sipping bottles of Budweisers around the bar, the patrons at Howard's Pub on Holabird Avenue are willing to share the jokes they've heard about the community they call home.
Forget Dundalk, Hon. Don't you know it's Dumb-dalk?
What do you call a pretty girl in Dundalk? Lost.
The quips draw groans from regulars, who poke fun at themselves because everyone else does.
They know how they're viewed: Dundalk — home of the uneducated, the rude, the crass, yes, the rednecks of Baltimore. It's a reputation that is undeserved, say the customers of Howard's, a bar whose parking lot served as the backdrop for the 'Girls of Dundalk' calendar photo shoot in 2005.
But after police last week charged a woman with enlisting the help of her brother and two others to kill her husband outside a popular tavern he ran on Railway Avenue, Dundalk is once again the center of the state's attention for bizarre and sensational crime.
It was back in March when five people were arrested as participants in another murder-for-hire plot against a gas station owner. Four of them — including people charged as the triggerman, the getaway driver and a go-between — were from the Dundalk area.
Three drunken young men who last year stole Cal Ripken Jr.'s No. 8 statue from in front of Camden Yards were from neighboring Essex — lumped by outsiders, fairly or unfairly, into one Southeastern Baltimore County locale.
A decade ago, it was Joseph Palczynski's 97-hour hostage standoff that put Dundalk under lockdown and turned it into a CNN encampment.
While Baltimore might have cornered the market on violent drug crime, Dundalk lays claim to the absurd.
The latest shooting outside Hop's tavern involves, according to police documents, an amateurish scheme born out of a domestic feud laced with drugs and adultery. The scheme quickly unraveled when detectives said they learned the wife had been on the phone with her brother as he hid between the bar and her house, moments before Robert Lee Martin was shot four times in the head and four times in the chest.
Turns out beer isn't the only thing that comes cheap in Dundalk. The young man who, police say, helped the brother in the ambush got paid $300, and his teenaged companion who police say drove the getaway car got just $100. It's unclear whether the brother got anything.
Almost as soon as the bullets flew, the bartender at Howard's, Nancy Robinson, said she and just about everyone else not only recognized the participants, they "knew the real story" long before the version of marital strife hit the newspapers.
And she knew Dundalk's reputation would once again come under attack.
"We're stereotyped," Robinson said between beer pours.
The community along the Patapsco River and numerous creeks and tributaries has long been maligned as a bastion of the lower-class, and at the same time lauded as a true blue-collar, family-value long-for-Ehrlich-to-return town proud of its industrial heritage and its signature yet depleted steel plant.
Dundalk's North Point peninsula is steeped in history and pride, with roots dating to the 1600s. It's named after a foundry man who was born in Dundalk, Ireland, and established a cast-iron pipe and bell factory near Sparrows Point.
The community has a historic district, boasts 42 species of trees and waterfront property along Bullneck and Peach Orchard creeks and Clement Cove.
People here brag about their Little League tradition and Fourth of July parade and fireworks display, which is coming up on its 74th year.
But Dundalk has always been ridiculed. In the 1980s, Baltimore's popular bad boys of the radio, the "Brian and O'Brien Show" on WQSR-FM, made a virtual career of entertaining listeners with Dundalk jokes during every evening's commute.
"It's 7:48," Brian Wilson said on the air once. "Time for all you people in Dundalk to move your El Caminos to the other side of the street."
In 1998, an Annapolis songwriter penned a single, "Blue Skies Over Dundalk," designed, the artist said, to "find the lighter side of a darker situation." The author who called herself Mary Prankster told a Baltimore Sun reporter at the time: "People make Dundalk jokes in Maryland like the rest of world makes Polish jokes, but it's actually a good, salt-of-the-earth community."
And that is precisely what the folks gathered at Howard's Pub want to convey, even if they risk being defensive. "We don't like outsiders," said Denise Langkam, the circulation director for the local newspaper, the Dundalk Eagle.
She was in Howard's sitting next to her husband Lou debating the ban on smoking in bars and blaming that and other ills of her community on the sitting governor, Martin O'Malley, a Democrat.
Ernie Moll, a 52-year-old master sergeant in the Air Force National Guard, who works full-time in a maintenance division, offered a staunch defense of his adopted community. He grew up on Moravia Road in Northeast Baltimore and moved to Dundalk five years ago.