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Up rising

Party mogul Tommy Up has found unabashed success by throwing increasingly successful bashes.

A promoter without his cell phone is like a designer without a runway. And on a recent Saturday night at Transit Nightclub, Tommy Up - whose real last name is Updegrove - might as well have been naked without his text-messaging capabilities.

Still, Up walked calmly throughout three floors of the club on Spring Garden Street, checking on DJs and the women working the door.

"Ah, it's no big deal," Up said, amazingly cool about losing his celly - and the 600 contacts stored inside it. (He replaced it later in the week with an iPhone.)

"I'm not worried about it. Everybody that needs to be here is here."

It sure seems that way.

Up has a rep for throwing the hottest - and most diverse - parties in Philadelphia since the days of the Black Banana. Tonight, hundreds of Northern Liberties hipsters are dancing hard to EPMD, alongside folks from Mount Airy, North Philly, even Rittenhouse Square.

"I love coming out and sweating it out on the dance floor," said Dan Najjar, 23, of Center City. "There is no other crowd like this in the city."

Up and partner Robert Norton have been staging events as PaperStreet for five years. This summer, they threw what was arguably the season's biggest weekly party, Mojito, drawing more than 800 people a week to the Moshulu on Penn's Landing.

On New Year's Eve, PaperStreet will host a bash called Backstage Pass at the Electric Factory, featuring underground artists DataRock, Low B, Brendan, D.J. Deejay and Juiceboxxx, for a $25 cover. Up says he expects more than 2,000 people.

That's an ambitious number, considering PaperStreet will be competing with several parties for the under-40 crowd, including one at the Roxxy on Delaware Avenue, the New Year's Eve Philly Downtown City Gala at Level in Center City, and the Glitter Gala at the Constitution Center.

Up and Norton are examples of the new breed of party promoters who have managed to turn the art of mingling into a profitable business by getting their name out.

Generally, promoters make money from entrance fees, while the venue takes money made at the bar. If more than 500 people a week pay $10 at the door, that's good business.

Many promoters use this money to launch entrepreneurial ventures. Sean "Diddy" Combs used the profits from his party-throwing days to launch his record label, Bad Boy. Here in Philly, Keith Leaphart became well known for forming Rainmakers, a social group that hosted events for young African American professionals. Now Leaphart is considering challenging U.S. Rep. Bob Brady (D., Pa.) for his First District seat.

In addition to promoting parties, PaperStreet is a marketing company. Up says he works with "fun stuff" - video games, music and fashion. PaperStreet was instrumental in helping developer Bart Blatstein hype the cool factor of Northern Liberties, where both Up and Norton live and work.

Up, 35, is PaperStreet's personality. Confident and optimistic, usually seen in a long-waffle T under a T-shirt with a graphic design by a Philly company, Up makes the contacts and hooks up the promotions. He communicates with more than 71,000 people on the PaperStreet contact list - always through e-mail, word of mouth, and flyers (he never uses radio, as that would kill the exclusivity).

Norton, 28, controls PaperStreet's funky image, creating the Flash Web invitations that PaperStreet issues for their events. The Fishtown native also does graphic-design work, both Web and paper, for events at the Borgata, Live Nation, and the Center City District - typically in the $1,000-to-$5,000 range.

"PaperStreet helps us promote shows, and they do a great job at it," said Jim Sutcliffe, director of marketing and publicity for Live Nation, which owns the Electric Factory.

"I think Tommy's crowd is different from those that go to rock concerts. He gets people who like to dance. Tommy does everything with a playfulness and sense of fun, and that translates to all his promotions and all of his parties."

Norton and Up met by chance, back in the early years of the millennium. Norton - who worked for, the Web site of The Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News - was designing flyers on the side. Up, originally from Atlantic City, was throwing parties at venues such as Shampoo and Egypt. They formed PaperStreet one night on a South Philly rooftop to throw parties and be a marketing tool.

At the time, guerrilla marketing was hot, as passe clothing and alcohol companies worked with local "tastemakers" to get their products in front of a cooler audience, to limited success.

"The scene just became saturated," Up said. "People were just chasing the cool factor. . . . There was no authenticity."

PaperStreet reintroduced products like Puma and was the regional arm for the now-defunct New York marketing company SoulKool.

In 2003, PaperStreet partnered with D.J. Brendan and started throwing a hip-hop party at Tragos, a Mexican restaurant and club near Rittenhouse Square, leading Up to develop a reputation among professionals who dug old-school hip-hop. Nights there had a cool vibe, with folks sitting on chairs that looked like stuffed olives, drinking Yuengling and nodding their heads.

"When Tommy started doing parties here, he opened up a can of worms for the Rittenhouse Square part of town," said Justin Zeigler, one of the former co-owners of Tragos.

"The Rittenhouse Square crowd was pretty yuppie, but PaperStreet changed that. They are the best in the city."

From Tragos, PaperStreet expanded, throwing weekly parties at different venues around town. One was bigger than the next.

Then, three years ago, Up and Norton came up with the idea to host a South Beach-influenced party named Mojito, after the minty drink. The parties, held for the first three summers at Marathon Grill Commerce Square at 20th and Market Streets, featured conga drums, hip-hop and house music.

"It was an amazing party that was a blast to participate in," said Cary Borish, owner of the Marathon Grill.

"But it just outgrew the venue. It grew bigger than we could control."

In 2007, the party moved to the Moshulu, a boat that holds 1,200 people. Serious partygoers knew to be on the boat by 11 p.m., because after that, lines wrapped all the way around. There were at least two DJs who played rap, house and vintage '70s beats to a crowd equal parts black, white and Asian. Guys sometimes wore seersucker and linen suits, while girls donned the inevitable sundress.

The Moshulu "wasn't really known as being a cool, hip spot," said Bill Bergen, one of the owners. "But it certainly took on that personality this summer."

Now every Saturday, at least through summer, you can find PaperStreet at Transit.

On this recent Saturday night, the sleet had turned into hard rain, yet Transit was still full. On the top floor, there was house music; '80s rock was throughout the main stage, along with screens showing snippets of icons Mr. T and Josie and the Pussycats; downstairs, hip-hop was blasting.

No one stuck to one dance floor, though. Everyone moved between rooms, dressed mostly in jeans. Guys added thin zip-up athletic jackets and Converses. Girls were in clingy tops and high-heeled shoes.

Everybody was artsy and happy - the perfect Up crowd.

"It's all about the music," said 25-year-old Kyle Clark of North Philly.

"I do hip-hop ballet for a living. And I just love house, I love the crowd. That's why I come out."