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The Sheppard has just one rule: no photos. That rule has not only applied to cocktail drinkers with smartphones, but also to media writing stories about the “speakeasy” from Spike Mendelsohn and Vinoda Basnayake.

When Y&H asked the bar’s New York-based publicist if we could send Washington City Papers staff photographer to get a few shots of the interior for a print feature this summer, she replied: “No photos of the inside are allowed, unfortunately. You can shoot outside of the building or the lobby if that works for you. Otherwise, I have some stock images I can pass your way.”

And when I took a few snapshots on my own and wrote about it as part of a larger story about phones in restaurants, Mendelsohn chastised me on Twitter:

We hashed out the debate further on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, which you can listen to here.

Washington Post Express lifestyle and dining editor Holley Simmons says she was similarly shut down when she brought a photographer along for a tour of the space for a story. She explains:

I have really fond memories of Steve’s Bar Room, the hidden bar that used to occupy the space where the Sheppard is now. Steve’s would host the best bebop bands. It was the kind of place you went to find trouble.

So when I heard that the Sheppard was taking over the space, I was eager to get back up there. I emailed the publicist right away to arrange a visit during opening week. She stressed that the Sheppard had a strict no-picture policy, but I assumed that didn’t apply to the press.

I brought one of our freelance photographers along for the visit, and when she pulled out her camera to take a photo of the drink (and just the drink, none of the décor, people, etc.), we were told – politely – to put the camera away.

I explained that we needed a photo of something if I was going to include a mention in the paper. Management told us we could bring the drink into the elevator and take a picture of it there, but that just seemed silly. I scrambled to make something work, and jokingly drew a crappy picture of the cocktail in my notebook. (Pic attached.)

Then I realized there was one area in the bar where nobody could stop me from taking a picture: the bathroom. I slipped my iPhone into my pocket and took some poorly lit photos of the toilet.

When the article ran, we ended up using photos the publicist provided of the exterior. It’s the same picture that every other press outlet ran, which made it less special, but I guess rules are rules.

But it seems those rules are no longer so hard and fast. The bar is now allowing some photos—albeit highly staged ones using only attractive people—to get out. Washingtonian has a big spread of the interior in its October issue, which you can see above. (It’s not yet online.) Meanwhile, Revamp published a bunch of shots at a launch party for Ciroc Pineapple.

I guess anything goes when shot girls are around?

UPDATE, 3:58 p.m.: Though Mendelsohn didn’t initially return a call for comment about the photos, he did later reply on Twitter.

Top photo of Washingtonian by Mike Madden; sketch by Holley Simmons